According to Science Alert, a website covering Australasian science, a new study has found that 59% of tested French wines contain at least one form of phthalate, most likely as a result of plastics used in wineries.
The new study, conducted by Laboratoire Excell, in France and published in Food Additives and Contaminants: Part A looked at the concentration of three phthalates in French wines and grape spirits marketed in Europe or intended for export, and found that 59% of wines tested contained significant quantities of one particular type, dibutyl phthalate.
Phthalates are toxic compounds that are common in plastics and household products, and research has suggested that certain types are capable of disrupting human hormones, as well as being linked to conditions such as obesity and allergies. The use of phthalates is regulated at an international level which means that there are limits to how much is allowed to be present in human food. And while some phthalates, such as Di-isobutyl phthalate (DiBP), are banned by many regulatory agencies from any contact with food, there is currently no maximum permitted amount in wine and spirits per se.
To make matters worse, only 17% of wines did not contain any detectable quantity of at least one of the reprotoxic phthalates, which are phthalates that have an affect on the human reproductive system. Equally worrysome, the study also found that 11% of the wines analyzed had higher phthalate content than the European Union allows for materials in contact with food.
The grape-based spirits tested didn’t do much better, with two types of phthalates being detected in 90% of samples. And 25% of the spirits tested contained DiBP, which is not permitted in contact with food at all.
So where are these chemicals coming from? Increasingly, wine is aged in giant stainless-steel tanks and the desired “oakiness” is not imparted by the container, but by chips, chunks or even whole planks of wine-barrel wood suspended inside the tank. Thus, the study points to a wide variety of materials frequently present in wineries, but concluded that “the major source” of contamination was epoxy resin coatings used on vats. The study found that certain phthalates not permitted for contact with food were found “in the walls of polyester-and-glass-fibre vats and in some epoxy resins.”
So, should you be worried about American wine? The folks at The New Reddit Journal of Science took up this very question. I perused the 693 comments, and read much back and forth on whether wine vats are lined with phthalaes. In the end, the general consensus seems to be that, although it may be hard to explain how the phthalates got into the wine, its worth it to stick to wine produced in wood barrels. That means you are can choose many artisanally produced red wines and the majority of fine wines. And, as one commenter, Bailie2, said:
…my chem teacher taught me this. Never drink alcohol out of plastic bottles, for exactly this reason. Phtalates are soluble in ethanol, so they leech out of the plastic.
I guess that means boxed wines are most definitely suspect.