(Reuters) - Arsenic levels in some juice samples exceed allowable limits for water and have renewed concerns about the safety of popular childhood drinks, according to a consumer group report published on Wednesday.
Product-testing organization Consumer Reports analyzed 88 samples and found that five samples of apple juice and four samples of grape juice had total arsenic levels exceeding federal limits in place for drinking water.
Brands including Apple & Eve, Great Value, Mott's, Walgreens and Welch's had at least one sample that exceeded the 10 parts per billion threshold, it said.
Federal standards for arsenic in water exist, but juices and other foods are not regulated, it said.
Because juice is a mainstay of many children's diets, the group said they could be particularly vulnerable to health issues associated with arsenic, including certain forms of cancer.
The 88 samples came from 28 apple and three grape juice brand products that were purchased by Consumer Reports. They included ready-to-drink bottles, juice boxes and cans of concentrate from different lot numbers at stores around New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
The findings were released online and are featured in the January 2012 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.
The Juice Products Association said comparing juice to water standards was not appropriate.
"Fruit juice producers are confident the juice being sold today is safe," said Gail Charnley, a toxicologist for the juice association.
Juice producers are committed to meeting an informal level of safety for juice set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, she said, adding that all the samples from the report met those measures for inorganic arsenic levels.
Consumer Reports also found about one-fourth of all juice samples had lead levels at or above the federal limit for bottled water, it said.
The advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, Consumer Union, said in the report these findings should be enough to prompt the federal government to establish arsenic limits for juice.
Arsenic is found in water, air, food and soil as a naturally occurring substance or from contamination.
Breathing in high levels of arsenic can irritate the throat and lungs. Exposure to lower levels can cause nausea and vomiting or discolor the skin.
Ingesting very high levels of arsenic can lead to death.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been monitoring fruit juices for years. It said in a statement the vast majority of apple juice tested contained low levels of arsenic and it was confident in the safety of the product.
It did recognize, however, that a small percentage of samples have elevated levels. The FDA has increased efforts to monitor the product to determine if levels can be established that would reduce consumer exposure to arsenic in apple juice, the statement said.
The FDA conducted its own tests on apple juice this year after Dr. Mehmet Oz reported on his TV show high levels of arsenic in some products.
The FDA said its own tests of the same products showed very low levels of total arsenic in all samples tested.
(Reporting by Lauren Keiper; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Ian Simpson)