If you’ve sipped a glass of wine with friends lately you’ve probably talked about a class action lawsuit finding arsenic levels over what the EPA allows for drinking water in 83 cheap wines. Arsenic is never a welcome ingredient in any food or beverage, but wine experts are saying relax. One of those experts is Capital Public Radio’s resident wine expert Rick Kushman. He joins us for this week’s Kushman by the Bottle to explain whether you should throw out those low-cost, high-arsenic bottles of wine on your rack. You can hear “Bottle Talk with Rick and Paul” on KVON 1140 am in Napa Tuesdays at 11am, at www.rickandpaulwine.com, or on iTunes podcasts.
Q: Where might the arsenic come from?
Arsenic is found in foods like apple juice, Brussels sprouts, brown rice, chicken, fish and beer, too. Levels are all over the map but some are definitely higher than the wine.
Arsenic is a trace element found in the Earth’s crust. In the wine, it might come from the soils naturally, or from pesticide residue. Also from the way wineries filter, using bentonite clay, which might have residue.
One reason might be higher in cheaper wines is that they come from bigger, farm country vineyards and might have more pesticide residue.
Q: So what does all this mean? Is there an arsenic danger?
Vast majority of wine is under 10 ppb drinking water standards. (In this lab’s test, 93 percent were under. All wines costing more than $10 were under.)
Canadians say these levels are safe.
A number of scientists in and out of the wine industry said the levels are safe. Wine industry says it can’t even investigate the science from the lab because it is not available (probably because now part of the lawsuit).
EPA says fruit juice with 20-50 ppb are safe. But it has proposed 10 ppb.
But, arsenic does build up, and it is one more source.
Q: What does it mean to the wine industry?
The lawsuit does not allege any injury or death due to arsenic consumption. The plaintiffs are seeking monetary damages and a court order requiring the defendants disclose on the bottles the risks of consuming inorganic arsenic in wines.
Danger to industry is suit alleges knew the levels were high and alleges the levels are dangerous. Those are two separate, and debatable points, but if a judge/jury agrees, it could be negligence, even criminal negligence.
And here is a link to the list of the wines: Wines Named In Lawsuit Over High Arsenic Levels
(Note: These wines are listed in the lawsuit. They do not violate any U.S. standards, and are considered safe by both Canadian and European standards. Whether there is any health risk at all is inconclusive and part of the suit.)