Denise Wilson, University of Washington – Arsenic in Wine

denise_wilson_2008What is lurking in your wine glass?

Denise Wilson, professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington, discusses if the amount of arsenic in wine is something to worry about.

Our research is focused in two areas: (a) engineering education; and (b) sensors and photovoltaics. In both areas, we look at research questions whose answers add to the basic knowledge in the field and also inform applications of that knowledge. For example, in engineering education, we seek to understand the role that belonging plays in the undergraduate experience (basic knowledge) but also to apply that knowledge to increase persistence of engineers after they graduate. In photovoltaics, we look at basic questions regarding the viability of alternative PV technologies in portable and grid applications, but also work to develop optimized array management systems that when applied, increase energy harvested from a portable system, regardless of the component PVs in the system.

Arsenic in Wine


Arsenic, once considered an isolated and infrequent toxin… is now acknowledged as ubiquitous… found everywhere and naturally occurring and stemming from water flowing stealthily past weathered rocks all over the world. 

It should be no surprise then that arsenic is showing up in our food and beverage supply.  

Certain crops seem to uptake arsenic better and faster than others.  Among the worst offenders are rice, apples, and grapes.   While previous studies have spoken to the presence of arsenic in rice, rice syrups, apples, apple juice, and foods containing these ingredients, recently published studies have implicated the grape as it ferments and turns into the delight that many Americans love and enjoy on a regular basis… red wine.

Recently, we have completed and published a study of a variety of red wines in the top four wine producing states – California, New York, Washington, and Oregon… and found that all contain arsenic above the EPA drinking water limit of 10 ppb.   At first, these results may seem ominous, speaking loudly against the future enjoyment of cabernet, pinot, and other red varietals.  In reality, however, wine alone is not a health risk.  

The truth is that most Americans, even those who drink wine daily, only consume at most 1/4 of the wine that they do water… considering the large variance in arsenic contamination among the red wines we tested, it would be difficult for a wine drinker who drinks a variety of red wines to consume harmful levels of arsenic through red wine alone.   

From this study and related ones, we can conclude that the arsenic threat is not about any other single source of arsenic.  Rather it is a whole diet problem, one that involves consumers carefully evaluating what they eat and avoiding a diet that involves regular consumption of high risk foods and beverages. 

We do it with cholesterol, sodium, and fat  We can do it with arsenic too. 


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