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Is There Arsenic in Your Beer?

When you crack open a cold one, or have it served to you in a frosted glass, you're expecting to drink beer, right? But what about heavy metals?

No we're not talking about Iron Maiden, but arsenic. Arsenic, people!

A recent report claims that high levels of arsenic has been found in over 300 filtered beers.

Disturbed, we did our homework and contacted a local Florida brewer for a professional opinion.

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Researcher Mehmet Coelhan at the Weihenstephan research center at the Technical University of Munich, reported at a meeting of the American Chemical Society that a test of over 300 beers had trace amounts of arsenic, with levels that were twice as high as the EPA and World Health Organization standard for drinking water (0.01 mg/L or 10 parts per billion).

Signs point to an age-old popular filtering agent that produces that crystal clear color from pilsners and light lager beers: diatomaceous earth. These powdery fossils, called diatoms, act like the charcoal in your water filter to remove certain larger particles from the beer; particles that could cause a beer to appear hazy.

Bobby Gordash, brewer at Holy Mackerel Brewing in Fort Lauderdale, thinks that the filtering process might be a factor in letting in unknown elements. That's one of the reasons his team keep their beers unfiltered.

"We don't use any of that [diatomaceous earth] in our beers. We do as much as possible to not filter any of our beers. We drop the yeast out, drop the sediment out, and put it straight into the keg."

A professor at UC, Davis, Roger Boulton, thinks that we are discovering these levels of arsenic because the instruments to test for it are getting so precise, they're flagging naturally occurring elements that have always been in those products.

Of course, until a proper study is done to conclude what is causing the arsenic leaching, all of this is just speculation. "The proper study," said Charlie Bamforth, a professor of brewing science at the University of California, Davis, "Would be to compare unfiltered beer to filtered beer, beer filtered using diatomaceous earth, beer filtered using perlite, beer filtered using cross-flow filtration."

So, if you're one of those people who think everything is out to kill you, you might as well give up on the clear beers and stick to unfiltered. After all, it's just for looks. "You'll sacrifice the total clarity," Gordash concludes. "But [being unfiltered] just adds to the character of the beer."

By Doug Fairall

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