If you’re a wine drinker, you’ve probably heard about an element called “arsenic” that is said to be a dangerous additive in certain wines. While wine is considered safe to consume, there has been at least one major lawsuit against select wineries for allegedly adding inorganic arsenic to their wines. However, the case has since been dismissed and found to be inaccurate (and therefore, it’s still safe).

However, if you still want to learn a little bit more about what arsenic is, here are some facts on arsenic and wine to help ease your wine-loving mind:

 

What is Arsenic?
How does arsenic get in wine?

Arsenic is a natural element that is typically found in rocks, heavy metals and soil. It can seep into a vineyard’s water and soil when arsenic-containing rocks erode due to rain, river water or wind. Arsenic is typically grouped into two categories: organic and inorganic.

 

What’s the difference between organic arsenic and inorganic arsenic?

The main difference between organic and inorganic arsenic is whether or not it is combined with carbon, which determines whether it is safe or unsafe.

What is organic arsenic?

Organic arsenic is the “safe” form of arsenic. This is arsenic combined with carbon. It is typically found in foods like fish and other seafood.

What is inorganic arsenic?

Inorganic arsenic contains no carbon atoms and is harmful to humans. This is typically found as a contaminant in rice, drinking water and of course, wine.

 

What are the effects of arsenic poisoning?

Arsenic poisoning typically affects the lungs, skin, kidneys, and liver. The short term effects can vary from headaches, nausea or vomiting, stomach aches to bad breath. Chronic exposure to arsenic can cause Vitamin A deficiency which can cause heart disease and night blindness. Other long term effects of arsenic poisoning include tumours and diabetes.

 

Can arsenic poisoning kill you?

Yes, prolonged exposure to arsenic and untreated arsenic poisoning can kill you. According to the Huffington Post, death from acute arsenic poisoning can take anything from two hours to four days.

 

How much arsenic is considered safe?

The level of arsenic considered “safe” is 10 parts per billion, which is a fairly small amount. In Canada, the legal arsenic limit is 100 parts per billion. In the States, it is 700 parts per billion.

Before you worry and stop drinking wine altogether, know that most wines sold around the world contain well-below this amount.

 

Should I be worried about arsenic in my wine? Should I stop drinking wine?

Remember that arsenic is caused by rock erosion, so it’s inevitable that a little bit of arsenic will be inside some of our food and drinks. The amount of arsenic naturally in wine is usually very little and is not a cause for concern.

 

Why do wineries put arsenic in their wine?

According to The Wine Institute, winemakers do not add arsenic to wine and never have. If any arsenic is detectable in wine, it’s from natural factors like water, plant concentrations and minerality of the terroir. Not only is the amount so low that it’s inconsequential, but other food types often have more arsenic than wine.

 

What amount of arsenic is legal to be in wine?

Inorganic arsenic in high amounts can be dangerous to the human body, especially when consumed through alcohol. Alcohol can impair the body’s ability to properly detoxify inorganic arsenic which can allow for higher levels of arsenic to remain in our system.

According to The Wine Institute, the U.S. government has not established a limit for arsenic in beverages apart from drinking water. Arsenic limits have been set for the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) and countries such as Canada, which range from 100 parts per billion to 200 parts per billion in wine.

 

What wines have arsenic in them?

In 2015, 28 wineries bottled under 31 different brand labels were hit with a lawsuit for allegedly “producing wine containing extremely high levels of inorganic arsenic.” This lawsuit was dismissed in March of 2016. While the attorneys of the plaintiff filed an appeal, the appeal was dismissed on May 9, 2018.

 

What is being done about arsenic in wine?

According to Arsenic Wine Facts, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Tax and Trade Bureau, the European Union and Canadian government regularly test wine sold in their countries. Thus, the trace arsenic levels found in wine pose no health risks.

As a consumer, you can always take the step by doing some research about your wine.

 

Want to learn about wine? Check out these articles you might be interested in:

Red Wine vs White Wine – What’s the Difference?
How is Wine Made?
What does “Wine Body” Mean?