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-does-arsenic-look-like

 

Why do wineries put arsenic in their wine?

Wine producers add arsenic to wine to improve the flavour, smell and/or colour of the wine to make it more appealing to consumers. Inorganic arsenic is added during the filtration process to clarify the liquid and give the wine a “sparkly” appearance.

 

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.

 

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.

 

What wines have arsenic in them?

In 2015, 28 wineries bottled under 31 different brand labels were under legal fire for producing wine containing extremely high levels of inorganic arsenic. Inorganic arsenic is up to 500 times more harmful than organic arsenic.

According to USA Today, the producers of the following wines have been hit with a lawsuit for highly arsenic-infused wines:

what-wines-have-arsenic

 

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 are not a cause for concern.

 

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 the real risk comes from repeated consumption arsenic-heavy wine(s) in addition to consumption of arsenic-heavy foods. So, even if you’ve had a couple glasses of Franzia this week, don’t worry, you’re probably safe.

 

What is being done about arsenic in wine?

Since the lawsuit was filed, lawyers have called for arsenic limits to be regulated to 10 parts per billion and provide more prominent warning signs of arsenic-containing wines. Currently, signs are put up in liquor stores, but the information is not on wine bottle labels.

As a consumer, you can take the step by doing some research about your wine. Consumer demand can help encourage winemakers to regulate and notify consumers of the arsenic levels in their wines.

 

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?