Wine and Arsenic

Posted on Behalf of  Joshua R Maskrey

In March of last year, reports on the potential health risks of elevated arsenic concentrations in a select group of California wines were making the media rounds. These stories were reporting that the arsenic concentrations in these wines were above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's limit of 10 μg/L for drinking water.

A group of scientists at Cardno ChemRisk (Paustenbach et al., 2016) addressed the topic in their recently published study titled "Analysis of Total Arsenic Content in California Wines and Comparison to Various Health Risk Criteria." The purpose of this study was to evaluate potential arsenic exposure from consuming California wines. Cardno ChemRisk collected sample wines from the group of wines publicized by the media as "high arsenic" wines, as well as other randomly selected wines produced or bottled in California. The publicized wines were found to have greater total arsenic concentrations (mean = 25.6 μg/L) than the randomly selected wines (mean = 7.42 μg/L). Analysis by wine type indicated that blush wines contained the highest concentrations of arsenic (mean = 27.2 μg/L), followed by white (mean = 10.9 μg/L) and red wines (mean = 6.75 μg/L). In addition, the researchers also found that, on average, lower priced wines contained higher arsenic concentrations than did higher priced California wines.

Using standard risk assessment principles, Cardno ChemRisk scientists evaluated whether or not the presence of arsenic in wine could pose a health risk to consumers. Multiple factors were considered in the analysis, including the wine's total arsenic concentration, the consumer's age and body weight, the consumer's frequency of wine consumption and total lifetime wine consumption, and overall dietary arsenic consumption in the general population. The authors found that arsenic in wine only contributed to a fraction (8.3% or less) of a consumer's total arsenic exposure received through diet.

In addition, the authors noted that not a single California wine tested had arsenic concentrations above the current Canadian and International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) limits for arsenic in wine of 100 µg/L and 200 µg/L, respectively (todate, the United States does not have a regulatory limit for arsenic content in wine). The authors note that that the likelihood of any California wine exceeding the Health Canada limit of 100 µg/L is below 0.3%. Ultimately, the study clearly demonstrates that "the presence of arsenic in wine does not represent a health risk for consumers" (Paustenbach et al., 2016: p. 179).

The abstract of the article is available here.