There’s a good chance that your favorite glass of red contains arsenic levels above the U.S. EPA allowance for drinking water. But you may not need to freak out.
The researchers tested 65 different wines from California, Washington, New York, and Oregon. All had organic arsenic levels at or above the EPA limits. [Author Note: The press release for this study says that all but one exceeded EPA standards for arsenic, but the study abstract says that all 65 wines did.]
Some were right at the 10 parts per billion (ppb) that the EPA sets for water, while others were as high as 76 ppb. The average was 24 ppb. Researchers also looked at lead levels in these wines, and while more than half contained lead, only some of the wines from New York had lead levels exceeding drinking water standards
Why You Shouldn’t Panic About Arsenic in Wine
There are two reasons that arsenic in wine is not great news but also not freakout-worthy news.
1. The arsenic in wine is naturally occurring, organic arsenic. The arsenic that’s used as a poison is inorganic arsenic. Organic arsenic is certainly not great, but it’s not nearly as toxic as inorganic arsenic. Like with apple juice, the arsenic in wine is naturally occurring. Rainy and windy weather erodes arsenic-containing rocks, getting arsenic into the soil. Grapes then absorb that arsenic from the soil.
2. You have to look at your whole diet. Wine isn’t the only dietary source of arsenic. Other arsenic-heavy foods include: seafood, dairy, rice, apple juice, and meat. If you don’t eat a lot of those foods, a glass of wine isn’t going to poison you, according to a companion study to the wine study.
Here in the U.S. there are no arsenic limits in wine, which is why the study uses EPA drinking water limits. Canada and the European Union both do have limits. In Canada it’s 100 ppb and it’s 200 ppb in the E.U. The American wines tested were well within even Canada’s more conservative limits.
Which wines had the most arsenic?
If you do eat a lot of foods containing arsenic, you may want to avoid wines that are heavier in this compound. The chart below breaks down arsenic levels in wine by American wine-growing region. The region makes a difference, because arsenic levels in soil are impacted by geology.
Study author Denise Wilson explained, “There were no statistical differences among Washington, New York and California. The only star in the story is Oregon, where arsenic concentrations were particularly low.” Researchers also found that American wines have higher arsenic levels that European wines, which they again think comes down to geology.