Are dozens of wineries violating California state law by selling wine contaminated with arsenic? A class action lawsuit filed on March 19th suggests the answer may be yes. This suit claims the wineries knowingly produced, marketed, and sold wine that contains levels of highly toxic arsenic that grossly exceed the legally allowed limit, and failed to warn those buying the wine of the potential danger.

BeverageGrades, an independent testing lab, investigated 1,306 different California wines. Results indicated that almost 25% of these revealed dangerously elevated amounts of inorganic arsenic, the most deadly form of the element.

Several of these contained arsenic levels exceeding the supposedly safe daily intake limit by as much as 500%. That limit is 10 parts per billion.

The wines listed in the lawsuit are generally reasonably low in cost, and include a predominance of white and blush varieties  including Moscato, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. Some of the popular brands named were Franzia, Sutter Home, Wine Cube, Cupcake, Beringer, and Vendage, Korbel, and Trader Joe’s.

Kevin Hicks, founder of BeverageGrades after 15 years in the wine distribution business, told a CBS affiliate in Florida he was shocked by what he found from the testing.

Read: Are You Drinking the Right Kind of Wine?

“Some very, very high levels of arsenic,” he said. “The lower the price of wine on a per-liter basis, the higher the amount of arsenic.”

The attorneys filing the class action have had Hicks’ results substantiated by two additional independent labs.

Examples of the levels found in the tainted wines are Trader Joe’s Two-Buck Chuck White Zinfandel, which showed 3 times the limit for arsenic, and Franzia Blush that showed 5 times the limit.

CBS showed the testing results to Allan Smith, associate director of the Arsenic Health Effects research program at U.C. Berkley, who said:

“These are about two to three times in this particular sample, the drinking water standard, and they vary, they fluctuated, but some of them were up to three, four or five times the drinking water standard.”

According to Smith, 50 parts per billion of arsenic, the highest level found, can be deadly over time.

The word arsenic has long been a synonym for poison. Arsenic poisoning is caused by elevated levels of arsenic in the body, usually from ground water that naturally contains high concentrations of it. In 2007, a study found that more than 137 million people in more than 70 countries may be affected by arsenic poisoning from drinking water. This, in addition to potentially lowering intelligence in children.

Symptoms of arsenic poisoning start with:

  • Headaches
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Severe diarrhea

Convulsions and changes in fingernail pigmentation characterize the next stage. Organs usually affected by arsenic poisoning are lungs, kidneys, skin and liver. The final result of arsenic poisoning is coma and death, as Smith pointed out.

Of course, it’s always important to consider where this research might have truly come from, or how it what funded. However, this does not appear to be a scam to get people into higher priced wines. If you are a wine drinker, take heed.


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