Do Cheaper Wines Contain More Arsenic?

If you’re any kind of wine drinker, chances are you probably freaked out a little bit about a class-action lawsuit claiming that there’s high levels of arsenic in over 83 types of wine bottles. It’s not the first time something we eat or casually drink from time to time was cited for having too much arsenic, and it’s probably not the last either. However, the question is how much arsenic is a person consuming when they drink wine.

The class-action lawsuit zeroes in on findings by BeverageGrades, a company that analyzes wine and was started by Kevin Hicks, a former worker in the wine industry. The data found that about a quarter of the 1,300 plus bottles of wine he tested had higher levels of arsenic than what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allows. That level is at 10 parts per billion and is the standard used for drinking water — where the questioning begins.

The EPA standard was created on the idea that an average person will drink two liters of water a day, which is common and probably more likely than a person drinking 2 liters of wine a day. Probably. As Tara Haelle explains in Forbes:

So let’s do the math for two standard glasses of wine a day. A 5 oz. glass is approximately 150 ml, so two glasses is 300 ml. If that wine contains arsenic at five times the EPA standard for drinking water, then 300 x 5 means you’re getting as much arsenic as the equivalent of drinking 1.5 L of drinking water at the maximum amount allowed by the EPA.

Essentially, even drinking 2 glasses of wine still doesn’t add up to the EPA’s maximum amount of arsenic you can have in a day. If you were to consume a full bottle of wine, assuming each wine bottle is a standard 750 ml, it would be like drinking 3.75 liters of drinking water — which is more than what the average human drinks a day. It's definitely more than the recommend amount, but not necessarily something a wine drinker does every day.

Or as The Wine Group, one of the wineries named in the lawsuit, said in a statement to the Wine Spectator:

A man would have to drink four 5-ounce glasses to match the amount of arsenic in three liters of water with 10 parts per billion. To reach that level drinking the brands that tested at lower levels of arsenic, a man would have to empty multiple bottles of wine each day.
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You’d have to drink a ton of wine to reach those dangerous levels of arsenic. Plus, using the EPA standard for arsenic in water is not the most scientifically sound correlation. People consume water on a daily basis in higher quantities, which isn’t necessarily true for those who drink wine. However, consuming inorganic arsenic can cause vomiting, multisystem organ failure, and exposure over time can lead to cancer.

In the meantime, if you're absolutely worried about which wines were named in the lawsuit, a full list can be found here. As for the rest of us, we'll just do like Olivia Pope and keep drinking until there's final proof.

Image: Brice Sander/Tumblr.