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QUESTION: Could a lead-sheathed aerator immersed in wine for 15 minutes deliver lead to the wine? 01 Nov 2007 USA

 I just have a question... My boyfriend makes wine, and during part of the cooling process, he needs to aerate it.  To do this, he uses an aquarium-like aerator with a strip of lead wrapped around it to help it sink.  This kind of troubled me, but he said that they use it in aquariums, and it doesn't hurt the fish.  Plus, it is only in contact with the wine (5 gallons) for about 15 minutes, so he wasn't worried about it.  Could this be a problem?

ANSWER: 01 Nov 2007

Dear Kristina,

The simple answer to your question is yes, a lead-sheathed aerator immersed in 5 gallons of wine for 15 minutes COULD add lead to the wine. Then the question arises: how much lead could be added to the wine? The answer to that depends on how oxidised the lead is before it goes in (does it have a whitish surface or is it grey and non-oxidised?), the alcohol content of the wine (the lower the alcohol content the less leaching will occur) and the temperature of the wine (the cooler the wine the less leaching will occur). In other words, if you test the wine, you can find out the answers to these further questions in order to answer the ultimate question as to whether the lead content of the wine is a problem.

Laboratory lead analysis of the wine is a good investment and the result can be compared to food and beverage standards.

However, even if the result does not exceed the standard, "no lead is good lead" so it would be smarter to use a non-leaded aerator.

Another way in which it may be possible to gauge the size of the problem is for the person who drinks the most wine to ask the doctor for a blood lead test. I'll send you an Info Pack explaining why it is unacceptably problematic if the blood lead result is above 2 micrograms per decilitre. The aim is to have a blood lead level of zero though in this world that has never happened, so the best you can do is to eliminate known and removable sources of lead.

It usually comes down to cost. What people forget to weigh up are the benefits of eliminating lead where possible eg better brain function and longer life. People often make their own wine for health reasons and so they can control the additives so it seems paradoxical to allow a known toxic heavy metal to get into the wine.

I trust that your boyfriend knows not to make his wine in leaded ceramic containers such as baths. He may be interested to read: ["Lead Poisoning from Homemade Wine: A Case Study" at Environmental Health Perspectives; VOLUME 109; NUMBER 4;  April 2001; 433435. Sam Mangas, Renuka Visvanathan, and Mike van Alphen] - despite the incredibly high blood lead level of 98 micrograms per decilitre, the wine-maker's doctors did not diagnose his lead poisoning for two years. This is because doctors typically don't test for lead (unless you request it) and the symptoms of lead poisoning are easily assigned to other possible causes. In other words, it is folly to say, "I don't need a blood lead test because I have no symptoms of lead poisoning."

All the best with measuring the extent of the problem. I'd be very interested to hear any results obtained.

Yours Sincerely
Elizabeth O'Brien

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