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Why is there arsenic in wine anyway?

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People who consume wine and beer may be getting too much arsenic in their diet. (iStock)

Wine and beer lovers may be surprised to learn that there may be too much arsenic in their favorite beverages.  But why?

Arsenic is a naturally occurring organic compound. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently allows up to 10 micrograms of arsenic per liter in our drinking water but it’s difficult to know exactly how much arsenic makes its way into our foods without laboratory testing.

A study published in the Nutrition Journal in 2013, found that white wine and beer—along with Brussels sprouts and dark-meat fish such as salmon and tuna—significantly raised people’s arsenic levels more than any other foods.

Study participants who said they drank an average of two and a half beers or a glass of white wine daily had arsenic levels 20 to 30 percent higher than respondents who said they did not drink.

The researchers behind the study identified several reasons behind the figures. One is that the ingredients in wine and beer --like water--are already high in arsenic. Secondly, arsenic may be added to wine and beer during filtration processes to clarify the liquid and give it a “sparkly” look. Third, the alcohol itself may impair our body’s ability to properly detoxify arsenic, allowing higher levels to remain in our system.

"The mechanisms that our bodies use to try to get rid of the stuff that is not good for us can be impaired by alcohol consumption," wrote study author Kathryn Cottingham, a researcher at Dartmouth College.

Though it is nearly impossible to avoid arsenic altogether, how much is too much?

A new lawsuit filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court has accused several California winemakers—including popular budget brands like Sutter Home, Franzia and Trader Joe’s Charles Shaw aka “Two Buck Chuck”—of containing up four or five times the limited of arsenic allows by the EPA in our drinking water.

Currently there are no federal regulations that require winemakers to disclose what is in their products. The outcome of the lawsuit may have major ramifications on alcohol manufacturing processes within the U.S.