Reps. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) are continuing to press the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to respond to reports of arsenic in juices and other foods.

On Wednesday, Pallone held a press conference at a preschool in New Brunswick, NJ to drum up support for his bill, “Arsenic Prevention and Protection from Lead Exposure in Juice Act of 2012” otherwise known as the “APPLE Juice Act of 2012.” The legislation, which DeLauro has cosponsored, would require that FDA establish lead and arsenic standards for fruit juices within two years.

Both arsenic and lead are known to affect brain development in children. Both toxins are pervasive in the environment — both naturally occurring and the result of pesticide use, emissions and other industrial and agricultural chemicals. In both cases, the federal government has set a safety threshold for drinking water but not for juice.

Both lawmakers sent a letter to FDA this week to “strongly urge” the implementation of enforceable standards for heavily metals, including arsenic, in FDA-regulated products.

“There are no regulations for this toxin in other food products, including juices or infant formula, though China has a standard for arsenic in food,” read the letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg.

Pallone and DeLauro pointed to a recent study published in Environmental Health Perspectives which found that food products sampled in the study “may introduce significant concentrations of [inorganic arsenic] to an individual’s diet,” which included infant milk formula and cereal bars.” They also cited a January Consumer Reports investigation which found concerning levels of arsenic and other heavy metals in juice products from Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York.

Consumer Reports tested 88 samples of apple juice and grape juice purchased in three states and found that 10 percent had total arsenic levels exceeding the federal standards of 10 parts per billion (ppb) for arsenic in drinking water, and that most of the arsenic “was the type called inorganic, which is a human carcinogen.” The tests also found that 25 percent of the juice tested had lead levels higher than the 5 ppb limit for bottled water.

The FDA says its “level of concern” for heavy metals in juices is anything above 23 ppb. The agency maintains that there is no threat to public health but testing has been stepped up.

“Young children are the most vulnerable to the harmful health effects of chronic arsenic exposure, such as brain damage, so the high levels of arsenic and lead found in fruit juices and infant formula are absolutely unacceptable,” said Pallone at the press event. “That is why I intend to put significant pressure on the FDA, starting today with a letter to the Commissioner, to act now and go even further beyond the specifications in my bill. FDA has a public health duty to protect babies and children from arsenic exposure – whether its fruit juice or baby formula.”  

In their letter, Pallone and DeLauro tout their bill, which targets apple juice, and ask FDA to move on a wider variety of FDA-regulated products: “Given that bill and the recent research on the threat that arsenic in fruit juices and food products pose, we urge you to implement maximum standards for all food products, including juices and infant formula, in a timely manner.”