A study of moonshine or illegal distilled spirits produced at 48 different stills found that 43 of the 48 samples had lead levels ranging from five to 599 parts per billion (ppb). Over half the samples contained lead levels exceeding federal water guidelines of 15 ppb.
For regular moonshine consumers, that poses a risk of lead poisoning,
but even occasional consumption carries some risk. Lead serves no
function in the body but lead poisoning can cause memory loss, brain
swelling, paralysis, and even
death. About 80% of all adult lead poisoning deaths are related to moonshine consumption.
The study was conducted by Dr. Christopher Holstege, Director of the Division of Medical Toxicology of Virginia Health System.
Hundreds of thousands of gallons of moonshine are produced annually in the U.S. The illegal production is highly profitable and continues because of the heavy taxation of legally-produced distilled spirits. Taxes constitute well over half the price of a typical bottle of spirits.