Most of us know and are concerned about avoiding the “bad” plastics. Especially when it comes to our food. Polycarbonate, PVC, Polystyrene. But until recently, many people have considered PET, Polyethylene Terephthalate (#1 plastic, the type of plastic that water and juice bottles are made from) to be safe. And while there have been studies suggesting that the chemical antimony can leach from disposable water bottles, especially when exposed to sunlight, heat, and rough treatment, no one had studied other beverages.
Antimony Found In 16 Popular Brands of Fruit Juice
According to a statement released on March 1 from the Royal Society of Chemistry, 42 different juices were tested across 16 brands, and found concentrations of antimony up to a factor of 2.7 above the EU limit for drinking water. Scientist Claus Hansen speculates that the citric acid in these drinks could act as an extractant, causing more leaching from fruit juice bottles than water bottles.
But let me be clear. While researchers have measured the levels of this chemical in drinks and suspect that antimony, which is used as a catalyst to create PET plastic, is leaching into the beverages from the bottles, they suggest that further studies are needed to prove such a conclusion.
We have measured antimony in juices with up to 17-fold higher concentrations compared to previous reports on beverages in PET-bottles. Trends in the data material 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.
Does Antimony Cause Cancer?
That question is also the subject of debate. According the the press release:
Antimony has no known biological function and the effects of long term human exposure are unknown. Antimony trioxide, a suspected carcinogen and listed as a priority pollutant by the US Environmental Protection Agency, is used as a catalyst in the production of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is used to package foodstuffs.
I checked several sites to for information on the carcinogenic potential of antimony. The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has this to say:
Breathing antimony can irritate your eyes, skin, and lungs and at higher concentrations for a longer time can cause problems with the lungs and heart.
We do not know if antimony can cause cancer or birth defects, or affect reproduction in humans.
Animals that breathe high levels of antimony have died and those that have breathed low levels over a long period of time have had heart and lung problems. Some rats were found to develop lung cancer.
So can drinking small amounts of antimony in water or juice cause cancer? The answer is that we really don’t know. Alarmist articles like those published in Britain’s Daily Mail this past week would have you believe that it does. But the researchers themselves believe their findings indicate further research is needed.
According to Hansen,
we cannot be sure that the antimony levels found are harmless. The human exposure to antimony is increasing and since antimony has no known biological function, there is concern about its long term effects.
And Agneta Oskarsson, an expert in food toxicology at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, said:
This work emphasises the need to follow up exposure and health risks due to increased usage of such elements as knowledge on antimony exposure and toxicity is scarce, therefore more data on the antimony speciation is required.
The fact is, we are exposed to thousands of chemicals every day that have never been tested for safety in humans. We need better laws, like the Kid Safe Chemicals Act, to require testing of chemicals before they are placed on the market. In the mean time, we ourselves can follow the Precautionary Principle which states:
Where an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.
In our home, we don’t drink any bottled beverages. At all. When it comes to juice, we usually skip it, opting for whole fruit. In the rare instances we do want juice, we make it ourselves. And honestly, I stopped drinking juice a long time ago when I realized it’s basically just concentrated sugar without the benefits of fiber from the whole fruit. In the rare case I need juice for some kind of medicinal purpose (cranberry juice?) I can find it in glass. Knudson bottles mostly in glass, for instance.
But however you feel about the juice itself, consider the plastic bottle. Perhaps it leaches chemicals into your drink. Or doesn’t. We do know that plastic bottle will last a very, very long time in the environment with the potential to harm wildlife along the way. Why use something we don’t need?