The German beer industry has had a rough couple of months. Recent reports have shown that beer consumption in Germany is continuing to fall to record lows and just last month details came out regarding a multiyear investigation into price fixing being done by some of Germany’s top beer breweries. Now a new study has been released that is linking the common filtering material used to brew beer to elevated arsenic levels in a variety of German beers.
Mehmet Coelhan, Ph.D. and his team at Munich’s Technische Universität, tested over 140 samples of beer sold in Germany and found that the arsenic levels were higher than the approved 10 micrograms per liter limit set on drinking water by the World Health Organization. “When arsenic level in beer is higher than in the water used during brewing, this excess arsenic must come from other sources,” Coelhan explained. After looking into all of the other ingredients and materials used in the brewing process, Coelhan discovered that the additional arsenic could be traced back to a filtering material known as kieselguhr.
Kieselguhr is used to remove particles found in yeast and hops to give beer its clear appearance. It is made from fossilized remains of a hard-shelled type of algae that is more than a million years old, and can release small amounts of arsenic. The use of kieselguhr is not unique to German beer however. This process is used by beer breweries around the world and as a filtering material in wine and other food products as well.
Despite the elevated arsenic levels, it is very unlikely that you will get sick from consuming beer or wine that has used kieselguhr. Mehmet Coelhan believes that there is a far greater risk of getting alcohol poisoning from beer than arsenic poisoning. Now that the source has been discovered, the fix is relatively simple. Facilities using kieselguhr can either switch to alternative filtering solutions or make sure the kieselguhr is thoroughly washed with water between each use to remove the extra traces of arsenic.