Arsenic, the poison of choice for bygone assassinations and mid-century murder mysteries, is a metalloid (sharing properties of metals and non-metals) that is found in rock and soil, with trace amounts in some areas and heavy concentrations in others. It has been responsible for the deaths and illnesses of many through water, food, and occupational exposure. It is has even been suggested that the painters Cézanne, Monet, and Van Gogh all suffered from the deleterious effects of arsenic as it was a component of their medium.
The issue of arsenic in drinking water isn’t a new one; arsenic leaches into groundwater causing varying degrees of contamination. And just because it’s naturally seeping from natural rocks doesn’t mean it’s harmless. The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry lists 275 hazardous substances at toxic waste sites–arsenic ranks as number one, based on risks to people living around those sites.
As you may have heard, recently, celebrity health guru Dr. Mehmet Oz raised another concern beyond arsenic in our water. He claimed that not only does apple juice contain arsenic, but at levels much higher than what is deemed safe for our drinking water. To which the FDA counter-claimed with a statement that most of the arsenic in juices and other foods was of the so-called “organic” form, which the agency said was “essentially harmless.”
The Oz test results join a larger group of tests that have been conducted over the past several years. As reported on by Consumer Reports, tests by university researchers and other labs say they have detected levels of total arsenic in apple juices that were up to three to five times higher than the 10 ppb public drinking water limit set by the EPA, which is a limit that the FDA imposes for bottled water.
Aside from naturally occurring in rock formations, arsenic has had plenty of agricultural and industrial uses. For many, many years arsenic was a component in widely-applied insecticides used in orchards, vineyards and cotton fields. The use of lead arsenate insecticides was banned in the U.S. over twenty years ago, arsenic remains in the soil which can continue to contaminate fruit now grown in those orchards. Possible continuing use of arsenical insecticides in other countries, including China, which now supplies the majority of apple concentrate used in the U.S, is of concern as well.