Should I be worried about arsenic levels in "white Merlot"?

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Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.

Dear Dr. Vinny,

I love "white Merlot," but my family is concerned about arsenic levels. Are they right to worry?

—Jo Anne, Tinley Park, Ill.

Dear Jo Anne,

You can let your family know that your drink of choice is safe! There was a lawsuit several years ago that was dismissed, but it got a lot of attention and created a lot of confusion and fear about arsenic in wine.

There are very, very low levels of arsenic in all kinds foods we eat like rice, shellfish and fruit juice. There are even trace amounts in water. We're talking about parts per billion here—that’s how low the levels are, and these trace quantities are considered perfectly safe for consumption by the FDA. Like those other foods and beverages, wine can also have trace amounts of naturally occurring arsenic in it, coming from the soil the grapes were planted in, or the water used to irrigate the grapes.

Because high levels of arsenic are dangerous, there are regulations in place that dictate how much trace arsenic is safe and therefore permissible in food and beverages. This lawsuit was dismissed because there was no evidence that the levels of arsenic found in wines posed a health risk.

—Dr. Vinny

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