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Elevated levels of toxic metals detected in popular drinks

A new study led by Tulane University has found that a variety of commonly consumed beverages, such as single and mixed fruit juices, plant-based milks, sodas, and teas, contain levels of toxic metals exceeding federal drinking water standards.

By measuring the concentrations of 25 toxic metals and trace elements in 60 beverages frequently found in grocery stores, the experts discovered that five of them contained levels of such potentially dangerous substances above federal drinking water standards. 

Mixed-fruit juices and plant-based milks, such as almond or oat milk, contained elevated levels of toxic metals more often than other drinks. For instance, two mixed juices had levels of arsenic above the 10 microgram/liter standard, while a mixed carrot and fruit juice and an oat milk each had levels of cadmium exceeding the three parts per billion standard. 

Overall, seven of the 25 elements – nickel, manganese, cadmium, strontium, selenium, and arsenic – were above the standard in some of the drinks. While lead was also detected in 93 percent of the 60 samples, most of them contained very low lead levels (below one part per billion), with the highest level (6.3 micrograms/kilogram) – detected in a lime sports drink – still not exceeding drinking water standards.

“It was surprising that there aren’t a lot of studies out there concerning toxic and essential elements in soft drinks in the United States,” said lead author Tewodros Godebo, an assistant professor of Environmental Health Sciences at Tulane. “This creates awareness that there needs to be more study.”

Although these soft drinks are most of the times consumed in smaller quantities than water – meaning that the health risks for adults are relatively low – parents should be cautious about what drinks they offer their children. 

“People should avoid giving infants and young children mixed-fruit juices or plant-based milks at high volume. Arsenic, lead, and cadmium are known carcinogens and well established to cause internal organ damage and cognitive harm in children especially during early brain development,” Godebo explained.

Since most of the toxic metals found in beverages originate from contaminated soils, it is very hard to get rid of them completely. However, these findings should encourage people to think more about what they consume.

In future research, the experts are planning to conduct a risk assessment based on the collected data to better understand the effects of consuming toxic metals in both children and adults. “We are curious to keep exploring what’s in our drinks and foods commercially sold to the consumers,” Godebo concluded.

The study is published in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis.

More about toxic metals

Toxic metals, also known as heavy metals, are a group of elements that are naturally found in the Earth’s crust. Some of these metals can be harmful to human health when they accumulate in the body in high concentrations, as they can interfere with normal biological processes. The most common toxic metals found in food include lead, mercury, cadmium, and arsenic. Here’s an overview of each:


Found in contaminated soil, water, and air, lead can enter the food chain and contaminate crops, fruits, and vegetables. Lead exposure can cause developmental delays, kidney damage, and neurological problems, especially in children.


Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and can be released into the air through industrial processes. It accumulates in aquatic ecosystems, where it can be transformed into methylmercury, a highly toxic form. Fish and other seafood can contain high levels of methylmercury, which may cause neurological disorders, developmental problems in children, and even death in severe cases.


This heavy metal can be found in contaminated soil and water, and may be taken up by plants like leafy greens, potatoes, and cereal grains. Long-term exposure to cadmium can cause kidney damage, bone loss, and an increased risk of cancer.


Arsenic is a naturally occurring element that can be found in soil, water, and air. It can also be found in certain foods, such as rice, seafood, and some fruit juices. Inorganic arsenic, the most toxic form, can lead to skin lesions, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases.

To minimize the risk of exposure to toxic metals, it is important to maintain a varied and balanced diet, be mindful of food sources that are more likely to be contaminated, and take appropriate steps to reduce heavy metal levels in your food (e.g., washing and peeling fruits and vegetables, cooking rice with excess water and draining it). 

Additionally, being aware of potential sources of heavy metal exposure in your environment, such as contaminated water supplies, industrial pollution, and old paint, can help you take action to reduce your risk.


By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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