New Orleans attorney files arsenic suit against winemakers

New Orleans attorney files arsenic suit against winemakers

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A lawsuit alleging high levels of arsenic in certain types of wine has now expanded into Louisiana.

A local attorney is following the lead of attorneys in California, and filed a class action lawsuit against dozens of winemakers.

Katie Toomey is a wine customer looking over a list of possible wines with allegedly high levels of arsenic.

"Yeah absolutely, it's pretty concerning," Toomey said.

Local attorney Daniel Becnel has now filed a suit in federal court in Baton Rouge on behalf of Louisiana plaintiffs' who may have been harmed by wine arsenic levels as much as 500 percent over daily allowable limits.

"A person who can drink a lot of wine (can have) arsenic build up and can kill you," Becnel said.

The lawsuit is taking on 100 winemakers, with labels like Sutter Home, Franzia, and Fetzer, who often sell for less than $10 a bottle.

"The only place you can get arsenic is if you grow up near an a bomb test site. This should not occur," Becnel said.

The lawsuit is welcome news for merchants who sell quality wines from traditional growers who don't mass produce.

"It's artificial, like artificial meat," said Jim Yonkus, with Keife & Co. Wine Sellers on Howard Avenue in New Orleans.

While the lawsuit mentions high quantity California winemakers, an expert says they all should not be lumped in the same category.

"There are a lot of great producers in California, doing what they do in France, that's old world farming," Yonkus said.

Old world farming that does not rely on pesticides, fertilizers, and other mass production techniques that some say is hurting the wine.

"I don't know if we've got a death case yet, they're all filing lawsuits to get this stuff off the market," Becnel said.

The wine institute responded to the lawsuit in writing, saying:

The litigation is 'unfounded', adding that the U.S. government has not published a limit for arsenic in wine. the wine institute, also says the risks from potential exposure are lower than the risks the EPA considers safe for drinking water.

"Yeah, I'd be interested in seeing what the final word is," Toomey said.

Consumers will be paying close attention as the arsenic litigation plays out.

Jefferson Parish Coroner Dr. Gerry Cvitanivoch says a consumer would need to drink 15 glasses of the targeted wines each day to exhibit any symptoms of arsenic poisoning. He added that if you are doing that, you likely have 'bigger' problems.

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