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Moonshine Can Still Cause Health Problems

Lead Toxicity Can Occur Among Chronic Abusers

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Updated February 14, 2014

The word conjures up images of country folk sneaking off into the back woods or downstairs to their basements to engage in an illicit Southern tradition – moonshine. According to recent news reports, it continues to thrive and according to a physician at the University of Virginia Health System, it can cause serious health problems in those who abuse it.

Dr. Christopher Holstege, assistant professor of emergency medicine and director of the Division of Medical Toxicology at U.Va. Health System, conducted research and found that more than half of the illicitly distilled alcohol samples he studied contained lead levels that were above EPA water guidelines of 15 parts per billion (ppb).

This lead content, Holstege suggests, can lead to toxic levels in those who abuse moonshine. His research results will be presented at the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine annual meeting on May 31 in Boston.

"Because moonshine is considered a tradition of the past, toxicity from moonshine consumption is likely to be overlooked," Holstege said. "With hundreds of thousands of gallons of moonshine produced around the nation annually, physicians need to be aware of this problem when evaluating moonshine abusers."

Holstege studied 48 different still samples of illicitly distilled moonshine obtained from law enforcement officials. An independent laboratory, blinded to the samples of moonshine and a control sample of ethanol, conducted the analysis. Lead content was determined using atomic absorption spectrophotometry. The results showed that 43 of the 48 samples had lead levels ranging from five to 599 ppb.

"No significant studies have been done to analyze Virginia moonshine for impurities since the 1960s," Holstege said. "Hopefully this research will make the public aware that there are still hazards associated with drinking moonshine."

Source: University of Virginia News Release.

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