Three of the United States’ top four wine-producing states have arsenic levels that exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (U.S. EPA) exposure limit for drinking water, according to research in the Journal of Environmental Health. However, an accompanying study in the journal also concluded that the likely health risks depend on an individual’s diet.

Denise Wilson, PhD, from the University of Washington, examined the arsenic and lead content of 65 red and white American wines produced in California, New York, Oregon, and Washington. All samples contained arsenic levels above the U.S. EPA’s exposure limit for drinking water (10 parts per billion [ppb]); all samples contained inorganic arsenic and the average arsenic detected among all samples studied was 23.3ppb. Washington wines had the highest arsenic concentrations (28ppb), while samples from Oregon had the lowest (average 13pp). Lead was detected in 58% of the samples but only 5% exceeded the U.S. EPA exposure limit for drinking water (15ppb) and all were from New York.

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Wilson then compiled consumption data for other foods and beverages that have been shown to contain arsenic, including juice, milk, bottled water, wine, cereal bars, infant formula, rice, salmon, and tuna. Heavy rice consumption posed the greatest risk for arsenic exposure among adults (as much as 41–101% of the maximum recommended daily dose), while infants consuming formula containing contaminated organic brown rice were the most exposed group among children (as much as 10 times the maximum recommended daily dose). Wilson estimated that most food and drink do not contain sufficient arsenic to exceed the daily maximum recommended dose, but that individuals consuming more than one source of contaminated water or food could be at risk.

The author recommended that U.S. wineries begin to test for arsenic and lead in irrigation and processing, as well as initiate steps to remove those contaminants if levels are found to be high. Patients are also encouraged to speak with their clinician if they have concerns regarding arsenic exposure.

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