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High Arsenic Found in US Red Wines, Health Risk Not Ruled Out

Red wine

Red wine

A team from the University of Washington found that out of 65 wines produced from America’s top four wine-producing states — California, Washington, New York and Oregon — all but one have arsenic levels far exceeding the limit permitted.

The US Environmental Protection Agency allows drinking water to contain no more than 10 parts per billion (ppb) of arsenic but the wine samples ranged from 10 to 76 parts per billion, with an average of 24 parts per billion.

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element that is toxic to humans and it can cause skin, lung and bladder cancers, and other diseases. As rain, rivers or wind erode rocks that contain arsenic, it leaches into water and soil. From there, the toxic metalloid can work its way into the food chain.

But another study countered the arsenic theory saying finally it depends on how many other foods and beverages consumed would matter. The two studies from UW electrical engineering professor Denise Wilson appear in the October issue of the Journal of Environmental Health.

All but one wine exceeded the 10 parts per billion U.S. drinking water standard for arsenic, and many New York wines exceeded the 15 parts per billion drinking water standard for lead.

All but one of the tested wines exceeded the 10 parts per billion EPA drinking water standard for arsenic, and some New York wines exceeded the 15 parts per billion drinking water standard for lead.(Image: Journal of Environmental Health, a publication of the National Environmental Health Association, www.neha.org).

All but one of the tested wines exceeded the 10 parts per billion EPA drinking water standard for arsenic, and some New York wines exceeded the 15 parts per billion drinking water standard for lead.

“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,” said Wilson.

“But consumers need to look at their diets as a whole,” he says defending the arsenic content in red wines.

The UW study is the first peer-reviewed research to look at the arsenic content of American wines, which are now estimated to have had higher arsenic levels than their European counterparts.

Washington wines had the highest arsenic concentrations, averaging 28 parts per billion, while Oregon’s had the lowest, averaging 13 parts per billion.“There were no statistical differences among Washington, New York and California,” she said. “The only star in the story is Oregon, where arsenic concentrations were particularly low.”

Where possible, the study also compared wines grown in “new” vineyards and those that had been converted from other agricultural uses like orchards, where farmers likely used arsenic-based pesticides that were popular in the early 20th century. It found some evidence that higher levels of arsenic in Washington red wines could be a result of pesticide residue.

Because the average adult drinks far more water (between 1.7 and 3.2 cups per day) than even core or frequent wine drinkers (roughly a half cup per day on average), it’s an imperfect comparison to gauge health risks based on the EPA drinking water standard of 10 parts per billion, she said.

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