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Sci Total Environ. 2011 Jun 15;409(14):2754-60. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2011.04.001. Epub 2011 May 6.

Lead isotopes reveal different sources of lead in balsamic and other vinegars.

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  • 1Department of Applied Environmental Science (ITM), Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden.


Fifty-eight brands of balsamic vinegars were analyzed for lead concentrations and isotopic compositions ((204)Pb, (206)Pb, (207)Pb, and (208)Pb) to test the findings of a previous study indicating relatively high levels of lead contamination in some of those vinegars--more than two thirds (70%) of them exceeded California's State Maximum Level (34 μg/L) based on consumption rates ≥0.5 μg Pb per day. The lead isotopic fingerprints of all those vinegars with high lead concentrations were then found to be primarily anthropogenic. This isotopic analysis unquestionably reveals multiple contamination sources including atmospheric pollutant Pb and an unidentified contamination source, likely occurring after grape harvest. Organically grown grape vinegars display the same Pb content and isotopic signatures as other vinegars. This implies that pesticides might not be a significant source of pollutant Pb in vinegars. A significant post-harvest contamination would be inherited from chemicals added during production and/or material used during transport, processing or storage of these vinegars. This is consistent with the highest Pb levels being found in aged vinegars (112±112 μg/L) in contrast to other vinegars (41.6±28.9 μg/L) suggesting contamination during storage. It is, therefore, projected that lead levels in most vinegars, especially aged balsamic and wine vinegars, will decrease with improvements in their manufacture and storage processes consequential to recent concerns of elevated levels of lead in some vinegars.

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