Does filtering beer lead to high levels of Arsenic?

Filtration of beer has had the big stick in recent times. Now, a new study has show that there is twice the level of Arsenic in filtered beer than water. We’ll look at the issue of filtration here and try to piece it all together.

High Levels of Arsenic in Beer

Beer enthusiasts may be alarmed at hearing that crystal clear beer filtered using the most common method worldwide may have higher than normal arsenic levels.

A recent German study showed that many filtered beers have levels of arsenic twice that of drinking water.

That’s because of the filtering medium “Diatomaceous Earth (D.E.)” derived naturally from the ground and can contain many metals including iron, lead and cadmium,the last 2 being also poisons.

D.E. Used in other drinks and processes

D.E. is used in the wine industry as well and in filtering systems in swimming pools so it is not new and its use is widespread.

“The wine industry has been moving away from using diatomaceous earth for decades, says , a lecturer and vintner for the California State University, Fresno — not because it contains arsenic but because it contains silica, so breathing it “can do damage to your lungs,” he says. He has switched largely to cellulose-fiber filters to reduce the risk to students.

The downside, Giannini says, is that the cellulose can give the wine a bit of a papery taste. “What I’m doing is blending the two, to minimize the paper taste and minimize the use of DE.”

Other options for filtering wine and beer include polyethylene filters, centrifuges and cross-flow filtration, which doesn’t use a filter medium at all.

Washing diatomaceous earth before use reduced the amount of arsenic it released, Coelhan says, but that method hasn’t been tested commercially.

Indeed, scientists have some work to do to find out whether diatomaceous earth really is causing problems with arsenic in beer and wine.

“The proper study would be to compare unfiltered beer to filtered beer, beer filtered using diatomaceous earth, beer filtered using perlite, beer filtered using cross-flow filtration,” says , a professor of brewing science at the University of California, Davis. He’s skeptical that diatomaceous earth could be causing troubling levels of contamination.

Abandoning diatomaceous earth altogether won’t guarantee there’s no arsenic or other heavy metals in beverages, UC Davis wine expert and chemical engineer Boulton told The Salt. “The sense that if you didn’t use diatomaceous earth, there would be no heavy metals in beer at all is a little out of touch with nature.”-source

One must take into consideration that beer in moderation is actually good for you as many studies have shown.

But in light of these recent studies what are the long term effects of filtered beverages using D.E.?

The fact we can measure contaminants to lower and lower levels will always be fodder for the media. Nothing has really changed just that the detection limits become better and so raise legitimate questions about safety.

Yes, we should make sure the levels of contaminants are not a public health risk.

We could go to the nth degree about all foods we eat and even organically grown foods probably contain trace amounts of these poisons. So what should we really be concerned about?

The fact that we live on a planet that most likely has trace amounts of poisons in our food supply should we not be concentrating in raising the awareness of the good nutrients that appear to be lacking in our daily intake such as anti-oxidants etc. and getting better at farming to maximise these nutrients in order to keep a healthy balanced defense system in the body? And then look at safe levels of “poisons” that may be acceptable in our food chain and look at ways to minimise these.

That way we won’t get hung up on isolated news stories that the media like to brew on.

We need to keep a balanced view of the big picture.

Unfortunately, the question of safety will continue to rage as long as we have doomsayers amongst us.

Should you filter beer anyway?

But as a homebrewer we may well be tempted to use the arsenic argument as another reason to add to the armour of reasons not to filter because of what we have been led to believe that filtration results in less flavour in beer.

But is this true or is there more to it than a simple removing of flavour?

I’d like to take that discussion in my next article on filtration.

So stand by and I will try to enlighten everyone about the subject of filtration and flavour.