By Katabella Roberts
A new study has found that some commonly consumed beverages such as fruit juice and artificial soda contain levels of toxic metals including arsenic, cadmium, and lead that exceed federal drinking water standards.
Researchers from Tulane University, Louisiana, measured 25 different toxic metals and trace elements in 60 soft beverages, including single fruit juice, mixed fruit juice, plant-based milk, artificial soda, and tea.
The drinks were purchased in New Orleans and are commercially available in supermarkets across the United States.
Researchers found that five of the 60 beverages tested contained levels of a toxic metal above federal drinking water standards.
Two mixed juices had levels of arsenic above the 10 microgram/liter standard. Meanwhile, a cranberry juice, a mixed carrot and fruit juice, and an oat milk each had levels of cadmium exceeding the three parts per billion standard.
What Are Arsenic and Cadmium?
Arsenic is a naturally occurring tasteless, colorless, and odorless, chemical element that can be found in the environment, including in food and water, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The element persists in the environment and does not deteriorate.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopted a 10 parts per billion (ppb), or 10 microgram/liter standard for arsenic in public drinking water in 2001, replacing the old standard of 50 microgram/liter.
However, long-term exposure to high levels of arsenic can result in skin disorders, an increased risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, and several types of cancer, according to the CDC.
Cadmium, meanwhile, is another naturally occurring element used in products such as batteries, pigments, metal coatings, and plastics but also found in plant and animal foods, according to the CDC.
When consumed in large amounts, cadmium can cause stomach issues and when inhaled at high levels, it can lead to lung damage or death. Cadmium is considered a cancer-causing agent.
“Exposure to low levels of cadmium in air, food, water, and particularly in tobacco smoke over time may build up cadmium in the kidneys and cause kidney disease and fragile bones,” the CDC notes.
Fruit Juices, Plant-Based Milks Contain Higher Levels
In total, 7 of the 25 elements measured by researchers in their study exceeded drinking water standards in some of the drinks, including nickel, manganese, boron, cadmium, strontium, arsenic, and selenium, while lead was detected in more than 93 percent of the 60 samples, although the majority contained levels below one part per billion.
The highest level (6.3 micrograms/kg) was found in a lime sports drink, though that is still below standards for drinking water set by the EPA and the World Health Organization.
Overall, mixed fruit juices and plant-based milks, including oat and almond milk, contained higher levels of toxic metals than other drinks analyzed in the study, researchers said.
Researchers did not identify the specific brands they studied but noted that they can be purchased at local supermarkets and retail stores.
The findings of the study, titled, “Toxic metals and essential elements contents in commercially available fruit juices and other non-alcoholic beverages from the United States,” were published in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis.
“The elemental composition of beverages, in particular fruit juices, is influenced by the nature of the fruits, irrigation water, soil composition, air pollution, agricultural practices (e.g., fertilizer use), and manufacturing and packaging processes,” they wrote.
“The consumption of these beverages can be a major route through which toxic metals and essential elements enter the human body and thus have toxicological and nutritional significance,” researchers added.
No Need for Fear, Researchers Say
Tewodros Godebo, lead author and assistant professor of environmental health sciences at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, said in a press release that it is surprising more studies are not conducted concerning toxic and essential elements in soft drinks across the United States. He also noted that most of the elements found in the beverages likely come from contaminated soil.
“These metals are naturally occurring so it’s hard to get rid of completely,” Godebo said. “This creates awareness that there needs to be more study.”
Despite the findings, researchers note that consumers typically drink these beverages in smaller quantities than water, meaning that the health risks for adults will likely be low.
“I don’t think there needs to be fear,” said Hannah Stoner, one of the researchers. “In toxicity, it’s the dosage that often makes the difference so everything in moderation. But this creates awareness that there needs to be more study.”
That said, Godebo advised parents to remain cautious when it comes to the beverages they offer their children.
“People should avoid giving infants and young children mixed-fruit juices or plant-based milk at high volume,” Godebo said. “Arsenic, lead, and cadmium are known carcinogens and well established to cause internal organ damage and cognitive harm in children, especially during early brain development.”
Researchers said they plan to conduct a risk assessment based on the latest findings to understand the impacts of consuming toxic metals in children and adults.