A new analysis of American wines has found nearly all contain levels of arsenic that exceed federal safety standards for drinking water.
The findings, by University of Washington researchers, are based on tests of 65 wines from America's top four wine-producing states — California, Washington, New York, and Oregon. All but one of the wines tested contained the toxic element, the researchers reported in the Journal of Environmental Health.
The researchers were quick to point out that the low levels of arsenic found in the wines were unlikely to pose health risks. But they highlight the need for consumers — particularly vulnerable seniors and pregnant women — to be aware that wine may be a contributor to overall exposures to arsenic, found in a variety of foods, including rice, apple juice, tuna, salmon, and other seafood.
"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 lead researcher Denise Wilson.
"But consumers need to look at their diets as a whole. If you are eating a lot of contaminated rice, organic brown rice syrup, seafood, wine, apple juice — all those heavy contributors to arsenic poisoning — you should be concerned."
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allows drinking water to contain no more than 10 parts per billion of arsenic. The wines tested — which Wilson declined to identify — 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. 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, it can work its way into the food chain.
Washington wines had the highest arsenic concentrations, averaging 28 parts per billion, while Oregon's had the lowest, averaging 13 parts per billion, the new research found.
"There were no statistical differences among Washington, New York, and California," Wilson said. "The only star in the story is Oregon, where arsenic concentrations were particularly low."
She added that consumers should not worry that arsenic in wine is putting them at risk, but should evaluate their diets more holistically and speak with a doctor if they have concerns. Tests are available that can detect high arsenic levels and tend to capture arsenic exposure over longer histories than other toxic chemicals.
"My goal is to get people away from asking the question 'who do we blame?' and instead offer consumers a better understanding of what they're ingesting and how they can minimize health risks that emerge from their diets," she said.
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