Don’t go pouring out your red and white just yet.

By Dr. Roshini Raj
Updated May 25, 2015
Credit: Getty Images

Should I be worried about arsenic in my wine?

Recently, a class action lawsuit alleged that the levels of arsenic in some popular California wines were higher than the EPA’s maximum allowable limit for drinking water. But don’t go pouring out your red and white just yet. Arsenic can in fact be found in many foods and drinks, like rice and fruit juices, because it can be absorbed into foods via soil and water. How does arsenic get there in the first place? While it’s unclear exactly, some amount of the substance has remained in the soil after arsenic-containing pesticides were used in the past to grow crops like cotton and apples. (These pesticides are no longer used on foods, but they may still be sprayed on golf courses or near roadways; runoff could also be part of the problem.) Long-term exposure to large amounts of arsenic has been linked to higher rates of heart disease, as well as cancers of the skin, bladder and lungs, so it makes sense to think about what might be in your wine.

However, it’s important to note that the safe levels for water are based on consuming up to 2 liters of water a day—more wine than you would likely ever drink. Another thing that might quell your fears: Even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t have a standard for arsenic levels in wine, Canada and other countries where American wines are exported do, and none of the 1,300 bottles of wine reportedly tested came close to exceeding even the most conservative standard. So in all likelihood, any arsenic in your wine is not a concern. (For the record, the Wine Institute, a trade group for California wines, has called the lawsuit’s claims “false and misleading.”)

Health‘s medical editor, Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, is assistant professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine and co-founder of Tula Skincare.