Arsenic In American Red Wine Exceeds Legal Levels For Drinking Water

On average, American red wine has more than twice the arsenic level allowed in drinking water. Dima Sobko/Shutterstock
Josh Davis 30 Sep 2015, 21:33

It turns out that many American red wines contain levels of arsenic that actually exceeds what’s legally allowed in drinking water. But before you panic and pour it all down the sink, the risk this poses to the majority of people is fairly minimal, and in part depends on what else you might be eating.

“Unless you are a heavy drinker consuming wine with really high concentrations of arsenic, of which there are only a few, there’s little health threat if that’s the only source of arsenic in your diet,” explained Denise Wilson, author of the paper published in the Journal of Environmental Health, in a statement. Alongside the study looking specifically at red wine, Wilson also authored a companion paper looking into the overall health risks from naturally occurring arsenic in the average diet.     

The levels of arsenic were analyzed in 65 wines from the top four wine producing states in America: California, Washington, New York and Oregon. They found that the levels of arsenic in the wine samples ranged from 10 to 76 parts per billion, with an average of 24 parts per billion. This is compared to the 10 parts per billion limit set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for drinking water.

Found naturally in rocks, arsenic leaches into water and soil as the stone is eroded by wind or the movement of water, and from there it then works its way into the food chain. Interestingly, the levels of arsenic in American red wine is higher than in European red wine, likely due to differences in the underlying geology of the two regions. The reason red wine is more of a concern than white is because the arsenic tends to concentrate in the grapes' skins, which are removed for white wine production.

The symptoms of acute arsenic poisoning range from mild tingling of the extremities to death, while the long-term health effects include skin lesions and, in some cases, skin, lung and bladder cancers.  

This research, however, shouldn’t really be a cause for concern, for most at least. The reason that the level set for drinking water is so low is simply because the majority of people drink much more water in a day than wine. The problems come, Wilson claims, when you quaff red wine while eating a diet full of other foods high in arsenic, such as apple juice, rice, and cereal bars.

In fact, in the second study, Wilson found that a woman eating a medium sized portion of rice would get around 50% of her maximum recommended daily dose of arsenic from that single source alone. So the dangers come when you start eating many high-level arsenic foods each day. Wilson hopes that by giving consumers a better understanding of what it is they’re eating, they can then make informed decisions as to how they can minimize any potential health risks in their diet. 

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