Arsenic is found naturally in air, soil, water and food. As an agricultural product, wine contains trace amounts of arsenic, in the same way as fruit, vegetables, grains, water, juice and other beverages.
US wines generally have higher arsenic levels than European products, believed to be due to the geology of the state-side wine growing regions.
The study from the University of Washington found that all but one of its wine samples had arsenic levels that were higher than what is allowed in drinking water.
Drinking water must contain no more than 10 parts per billion of arsenic, according to US Environmental Protection Agency standards. The wine samples in the study ranged from 10 to 76 parts per billion (averaging at 24 parts per billion).
However, as the study acknowledges, applying water standards to wine is ‘an imperfect comparison’ as people drink far larger volumes of water than wine.
Washington wines had the highest arsenic concentrations in the study, averaging 28 parts per billion.
“Arsenic levels in American wines exceeded those found in other studies involving water, bottled water, apple juice, apple juice blend, milk, rice syrup, and other beverages,” wrote Denise Wilson, author, in the study.
“When taken in the context of consumption patterns in the US, the pervasive presence of arsenic in wine can pose a potential health risk to regular adult wine drinkers,”
But Wilson says that, unless people are heavy drinkers consuming wine with a very high concentrations of arsenic, there is little health threat if it is their only source of arsenic.
However, she advises consumers (and in particular pregnant women, the elderly and children) to assess their diets a whole.
A frequent wine drinker would only consume 10-12% of the total maximum recommended daily arsenic intake from wine. “But if that person also eats large quantities of contaminated rice, tuna or energy bars, for example, that could push arsenic consumption beyond levels that are considered safe,” Wilson said.
‘Informed consumers have no concerns’
Arsenic in wine also hit the headlines in March, with a lawsuit filed alleging that some low-cost California wines contained ‘dangerously high’ levels of inorganic arsenic. This lawsuit used the US Environmental Protection Agency’s arsenic limit for drinking water.
But headlines linking arsenic and wine are unlikely to damage the industry, the California wine industry body Wine Institute told BeverageDaily.
“All wines sold in the US are completely safe and consumers should have no concerns about enjoying them. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other government agencies in the US, Canada and Europe regularly test wines for harmful compounds including arsenic to ensure that all wine is safe to consume.
“It is clear that informed consumers have no concerns about enjoying their favorite wine.”
Responding to the University of Washington study, the Wine Institute said that data used does not match with other tests.
“It is important to note that the data in this study is not in any way supported by the decades of laboratory analysis that have preceded it.
“The Liquor Control Board of Ontario’s (LCBO) Quality Assurance Laboratory is one of the most highly regarded in the world and it was the first lab in North America to receive dual ISO certification. In 2014 alone, the LCBO lab tested 17,537 wines from around the world, including 2,247 wines from California.
“The data from their tests found arsenic levels in California wines far below those suggested by the University of Washington study. In the last 12 years the LCBO has tested over 200,000 wines. In contrast, the University of Washington study tested only 65 wines and many of these tests were not even performed in a laboratory setting.”