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Analysis of moonshine for contaminants.

OBJECTIVES: In the past, some moonshine products contained potentially toxic contaminants. Although moonshine production continues in the United States, no studies have analyzed the content of moonshine since the early 1960s. We hypothesize that moonshine continues to contain potentially toxic concentrations of contaminants.

METHODS: Forty-eight samples of illicitly distilled moonshine were obtained from law enforcement agencies. An independent laboratory, blinded to both the moonshine source and a control sample of ethanol, conducted the analysis. Lead content was determined using atomic absorption spectrophotometry with a graphite tube atomizer. Alcohol content, including ethanol, acetone, isopropanol, methanol, and ethylene glycol, was determined using gas liquid chromatography with flame ionization detection.

RESULTS: Ethanol content ranged from 10.5% to 66.0% with a mean value of 41.2%. Lead was found in measurable quantities in 43 of 48 samples with values ranging from 5 to 599 parts per billion (ppb) with a mean value of 80.7 ppb. A total of 29 of 48 (60%) of samples contained lead concentrations above or equal to the EPA water guideline of 15 ppb. Methanol was found in only one sample at a concentration of 0.11%. No samples contained detectable concentrations of acetone, isopropanol, or ethylene glycol.

CONCLUSIONS: Many moonshine samples contain detectable concentrations of lead. Extrapolations based on the described moonshine lead content suggest that chronic consumers of moonshine may develop elevated lead concentrations. Physicians should consider lead toxicity in the differential diagnosis when evaluating patients consuming moonshine.

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