The study also specifies which states are the worst offenders. But because you couldn’t possibly give up your California Cabernets or Oregon Pinot Noirs, here’s what do do about it. (Photo: Getty Images)
Researchers from the University of Washington examined the contents of 65 wines from America’s top four wine producing states, which are California, Washington, New York And Oregon. And here’s what they discovered: The majority — 98 percent — of the red wines contained arsenic levels that exceed the U.S. drinking water standards.
While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allows tap water to contain no more than 10 parts per billion of arsenic, the wine samples ranged from 10 to 76 parts per billion, with an average of 24 parts per billion.
In the first peer-reviewed study in decades to look at the level of arsenic of American wines, the vino from Washington scored the highest, averaging 28 parts per billion. Oregon had the least amount of arsenic, averaging 13 parts per billion, which is considered “particularly low.”
Being that the typical adult drinks more water than wine, researchers also looked into the possible hazards from taking in arsenic from multiple sources in our diet. And this companion study concluded that adverse health effects are more likely when more than one arsenic-type food or drink is consumed.
“I know people are scared by the word ‘arsenic’ because of the old movies and all that we’ve heard,” lead study author Denise Wilson, an electrical engineering professor at University of Washington, tells Yahoo Health. “But we do ingest a little bit and that’s okay — with chronic exposures is when we have a problem.”
According to the World Health Organization, long-term exposure to arsenic via your diet can lead to chronic arsenic poisoning, which can most often be spotted by changes in your skin — such as pigmentation changes, skin lesions, and hard patches on the palms and soles of the feet. These symptoms can happen after 5 years of exposure and can be a precursor to skin cancer. Other side effects to long-term arsenic exposure could be cancers of the bladder and lungs, along with diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
“If you are what we call a ‘core wine drinker’ in this country — meaning you have about a glass of wine a day — there is a strong variation of arsenic content among red wines that you should probably be concerned about,” she explains. According to Wilson, you have cause for concern “if you are a) drinking the same contaminated red wine week after week — and most of us don’t do that, most of us try a variety of red wines — or b) if you have other sources of (arsenic) contamination in your diet.”
As for the other arsenic-laced items, Wilson refers to the “heavy hitters that we know of in this country,” which include apple juice, rice, cereal bars, salmon, tuna and potentially private well water. “Our goal is to inform in a way that is actionable,” she states. “If you’re a consumer, you want to make sure that your arsenic intake is not a health risk and we want to give you the tools to do that.”
So how are red wine lovers to know which Merlots and Pinot Noirs contain higher levels of this chemical? “There are no current labeling regulations for heavy metals, including arsenic,” states Wilson. While she notes that previous research indicates that “European wines do not show significant arsenic levels,” she points out that it’s most likely a matter of location. “My guess is that it’s related to geology. It’s not something we’re doing wrong.”
Wilson is hopeful that further testing will be funded to better educate the wineries, as well as the public. “Arsenic is a naturally occurring element and it’s very difficult to control something that is naturally occurring,” she says. “However, I think, especially in the wine industry and for premium vineyards, that testing arsenic levels is straight forward and is not very expensive, and I hope it that it takes hold as a result of these studies.”
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