Arsenic Content in American Wine

By Wilson, Denise | Journal of Environmental Health, October 2015 | Go to article overview

Arsenic Content in American Wine


Wilson, Denise, Journal of Environmental Health


Introduction

Arsenic is ubiquitous in air, water, and living things (Azcue, 1995). Although present in both elemental and compound forms, arsenic poses the most serious threat to humans in its inorganic forms, as pentavalent [As.sup.5+] and trivalent [As.sup.3+] compounds. Organic forms of arsenic are predominantly arsenobetaine and are considerably less toxic than inorganic forms. Herein, the term arsenic is used to describe composition that is dominated by inorganic compounds in either pentavalent or trivalent states.

Arsenic in groundwater typically comes from minerals that have dissolved from weathered rocks and soils rather than from human influences (Azcue, 1995). For hundreds of years, however, arsenic has also been introduced into the environment through the use of pesticides and insecticides on a wide range of crops. Grape vines absorb arsenic from the soil as pentavalent [As.sup.5+], 60% of which is further reduced during fermentation to trivalent [As.sup.3+], the most toxic form of arsenic. Despite the fact that arsenic-containing pesticides are now prohibited in all major wine-producing countries, grapes can continue to uptake large amounts of arsenic from residue in the soil for very long periods of time. Soil composition, background arsenic in irrigation water, and possible corrosion of metal caps (Galani-Nikolakaki & Kallithrakas-Kontos, 2006) have also been implicated in arsenic contamination of wine.

Arsenic has been studied in wine around the world. For example, Galani-Nikolakaki and co-authors (2002) found no arsenic above the 0.5 parts per billion (ppb) detection limit in any of 30 Cretan wine samples analyzed. Similarly, a study of wines originating from 10 vineyards in Italy (Bertoldi, Villegas, Larcher, & Santato, 2013) yielded concentrations less than 1.62 ppb in all wine samples, with red wines yielding higher concentrations than white wines from the same vineyards. A study of 80 wine samples in central Europe (Huang, Hu, Ilgen, & Ilgen, 2012), both red and white, also showed that most contained total arsenic concentrations less than the 10 ppb drinking water limit of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA, 2010). Spanish wines (Herce-Pagliai, Moreno, Gonzalez, Repetto, & Camean, 2002) showed slightly higher arsenic concentrations ranging from 2.10 to 14.6 ppb but with a mean level remaining below the drinking water limit of 10 ppb. These arsenic levels are low compared to the maximum 110 ppb and 420 ppb of pentavalent [As.sup.5+] and trivalent [As.sup.3+] species, respectively, found in U.S. table wines (Crecelius, 1977) in the 1970s.

The study described here sought to complement recent studies by looking at arsenic contamination in American wines. This study also examined lead in wine, since lead is a common co-contaminant to arsenic (Per-yea, 1998) due to the extensive historical use of lead-arsenate pesticides in agriculture.

Methods

Sample Procurement

Wines were selected for testing according to the following guidelines: (1) samples in each state represented at least four diverse winegrowing regions (American Viticultural Areas or AVAs) within that state; (2) red wines were chosen over white wines because grape skins contain more heavy metal than pulp (Teissedre, Cabanis, Champagnol, & Cabanis, 1994); and (3) the same red wine grape was sampled wherever possible within a state to reduce any confounding impacts of grape variety. Most wines were procured from local grocery stores, wine shops, or online wine merchants, while some small production wines were procured directly from the producing winery. All but two wines tested contained grapes grown in a single AVA; two wines used grapes that were grown in multiple AVAs but within the same state (California). Origin of grapes was confirmed through information contained on the label or sell sheet for each wine or by personal communication with the producing winery. …

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