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Should we be worried about antimony levels in juices?

By Guy Montague-Jones , 01-Mar-2010
Last updated the 16-Mar-2010 at 09:38 GMT

A recent study uncovering levels of antimony in juices above EU limits for drinking water has provoked calls for more research into the issue but industry insists that juices are safe.

Writing in the Journal of Environmental Monitoring, scientists at the University of Copenhagen studied antimony levels in 42 juice drinks and found concentrations above EU limits for drinking water in eight of them.

This discovery is of concern to the soft drinks industry because antimony is a suspected carcinogen that resembles arsenic on a chemical level.

Call for research

Agneta Oskarsson, an expert in food toxicology, at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, said the study underscores the need for more research into antimony.

Oskarsson said animal experiments have linked antimony to cancer but knowledge on exposure and toxicity is generally scarce. The Professor said there is enough evidence to be concerned but more research is required covering general toxicology as well as reproductive and cancer risks.

Despite the scientific uncertainty about risks, the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) insisted that fruit juices and juice drinks are safe.

Referring to the finding that antimony levels in certain juices were above the EU limits for drinking water, the trade body said: “There is no read across between the levels of antimony permitted in drinking water and those that might be acceptable in a fruit juice or a juice drink. It is not uncommon that different product types should have different regulatory requirements.”

Richard Laming, a spokesperson for the BSDA, said consumption levels have to be accounted for, and people generally drink a lot more water than juice.

But insufficient data could also explain the lack of regulatory limits for different foodstuffs. Oskarsson said an absence of regulatory limits can sometimes be evidence that not enough is known to establish them rather than evidence that there are no adverse effects.

Leaching from PET?

As well as raising concerns about the levels of antimony in juices, the new study in the Journal of Environmental Monitoring suggested that antimony could be leaking into juices from PET bottles.

Antimony trioxide, a form of antimony that is of particular concern to scientists from a safety point of view, is used in the production of PET. The study authors said their research suggested that antimony is indeed leaching into PET bottles but they were cautious in their assessment.

The scientists wrote: “Trends in the data indicate that the antimony has leached from the packing material; however, it cannot be excluded that the antimony was present prior to packing. Thus, further studies are warranted.”

The BSDA denied that there were any significant trends in the data. “The data in the study does not confirm any conclusions about the packaging: the authors themselves conclude that “further studies are warranted.”

Source: Journal of Environmental Monitoring
Elevated antimony concentrations in commercial juices
DOI: 10.1039/b926551a (published online 17 February 2010)
C Hansen, A Tsirigotaki, S.A Bak, S.A Pergantis, S Stürup, B. Gammelgaard and H.R. Hansen