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Several news media (Fox News, Huffington Post and ABC News) reported about an episode of "The Dr. Oz Show" in which Dr. Oz stated that many apple juices contain dangerously high levels of arsenic. The FDA had advance knowledge of this episode and disputed this claim, arguing that the measured amounts were for total arsenic, while only inorganic arsenic is dangerous.

Is organic arsenic harmless as the FDA claims? Are the arsenic levels present in apple juice dangerous or harmless?

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Fabian, I wonder if you are familiar with the term Dorothy Dixer? :-) –  Oddthinking Sep 18 '11 at 2:23
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For people who don't have an US-TV-account, it would be nice to explain, what the Dr. Oz Show is. A comedy? A medical teach in? A well known source of funny or not so funny myths? Isn't there a Hollywood film with an Wizard of Oz, who knows effectively nothing? And the girl with the red shoes is named 'Dorothy', but Dixer? –  user unknown Sep 19 '11 at 3:01

2 Answers 2

up vote 11 down vote accepted

No, apple juice does not contain dangerous levels of arsenic.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been monitoring both the arsenic levels in apple juice, and the claims by Dr. Oz.

They have suggested it would be "irresponsible and misleading to suggest that apple juice contains unsafe amounts of arsenic based on tests for total arsenic". This is exactly what Dr. Oz has done, despite being warned earlier in a letter from the FDA.

[Source: FDA Letter to Dr Oz]

They explain that they have:

every confidence in the safety of apple juice.

and that there is:

no evidence of any public health risk from drinking these juices [...] FDA has been testing them for years.

Source: FDA Consumer Update: FDA: Apple Juice is Safe To Drink

The FDA resources go onto explain that organic arsenic has a far different toxicity to inorganic arsenic, and that measuring, as Dr Oz does, for total arsenic is misleading. It also explains the reasons for the difference between acceptable levels in water and apple juice: basically, water (including added to food) contributes to a far greater percentage of daily intake.

Is the FDA right about that? Well, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR, part of the US's CDC) agrees that inorganic arsenic is toxic.

Source: ATSDR's Public Heath Statement for Arsenic

Inorganic arsenic has been recognized as a human poison since ancient times, and large oral doses (above 60,000 ppb in water which is 10,000 times higher than 80% of U.S. drinking water arsenic levels) can result in death. If you swallow lower levels of inorganic arsenic (ranging from about 300 to 30,000 ppb in water; 100–10,000 times higher than most U.S. drinking water levels), you may experience irritation of your stomach and intestines, with symptoms such as stomachache, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

(They goes on to describe much more nastiness involved with ingestion and inhalation of inorganic arsenic.)

When it comes to organic arsenic, they are more vague:

Almost no information is available on the effects of organic arsenic compounds in humans. Studies in animals show that most simple organic arsenic compounds (such as methyl and dimethyl compounds) are less toxic than the inorganic forms. In animals, ingestion of methyl compounds can result in diarrhea, and lifetime exposure can damage the kidneys. Lifetime exposure to dimethyl compounds can damage the urinary bladder and the kidneys.

They contrast the length of time the two types of arsenic stay in the body:

Both inorganic and organic forms leave your body in your urine. Most of the inorganic arsenic will be gone within several days, although some will remain in your body for several months or even longer. If you are exposed to organic arsenic, most of it will leave your body within several days.

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do you have any references to toxicity of org arsenic vs inorg arsenic that aren't from the FDA (what the OP is asking) –  ratchet freak Sep 18 '11 at 12:35
    
@ratchet freak, thanks for the suggestion. I have added a reference to ATSDR which somewhat supports the FDA position. –  Oddthinking Sep 19 '11 at 1:48

As a complement to the answer given by oddthinking:

When the Dr. Oz Show gave the FDA information suggesting that apple juice samples it had tested showed results as high as 36 parts per billion (ppb) of total arsenic, the FDA obtained its own samples of apple juice—including a sample of the same lot of apple juice purportedly containing 36 ppb—for analysis. The FDA’s test results do not support the findings of the Dr. Oz Show, and, in fact, are significantly less (2 to 6 ppb) than the levels found by the television program’s analysis.

http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm271746.htm

The world health organisation has a lengthy report on arsenic in food: http://whqlibdoc.who.int/ehc/WHO_EHC_224.pdf and: http://whqlibdoc.who.int/ehc/WHO_EHC_224_(part2).pdf On page 100 of that document (part 2) you find a table with different total arsenic values in food.

table arsenic in food

From these data it seems that the 2-6 ppb (microg/kg) in apple juice will not lead to a much higher total intake of total arsenic. You should rather start worrying about eating fish.

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If you are worrying about the arsenic in fish, you still haven't made the distinction between the two types of arsenic. "Although some fish and shellfish take in arsenic, which may build up in tissues, most of this arsenic is in an organic form called arsenobetaine (commonly called "fish arsenic") that is much less harmful." - the same ATSDR report quoted in my answer. –  Oddthinking Sep 19 '11 at 1:50

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