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Decorative Drinking Glasses May Contain High Levels of Lead, Cadmium: Study

Popular wine and drinking glasses that feature fun designs or decorations typically contain harmful heavy metals, according to the findings of a new European study. 

Researchers from the University of Plymouth indicate that 70 percent of the drinking glasses tested had high levels of cadmium or lead, which exceed the acceptable and safe thresholds. The findings were published online October 22, in the journal Science of The Total Environment.

The study analyzed more than 70 new and second-hand glassware with external decorations, including tumblers, beer glasses, shot glasses, wine glasses, and jars.

Researchers analyzed the glassware using portable x-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometry and conducted nearly 200 analyses of different colors and areas of the products.

Lead was detected in 139 cases and cadmium was detected in 134 of the analyses. In fact, lead was detected in all colors in concentrations ranging from 40 to 400,000 micrograms (mcg). Cadmium was detected in all colors, with the exception of gold leaf, and in concentrations ranging from 300 to 70,000 mcg.

While the findings are part of a British study, the results are relevant to Americans as well, as researchers indicate that both the U.S. and Europe import the majority of glassware from Asia.

In 2010, McDonald’s recalled more than 13 million Shrek promotional drinking glasses after they tested positive for cadmium.

Researchers also conducted more specific testing on the lip areas and concluded lead concentrations exceeded 0.5 mg in all but one case. Three glasses had concentrations well over 100 mg, 1,000 times higher than the acceptable “safe” limit.

On the lip area, the glasses exceeded 4 mg of cadmium in five cases. The upper limit of cadmium was found to be 40 mg.

Researchers said they also readily found both metals in flakes of paint which came off the glasses after sustained use. This could allow a consumer to ingest quite a significant amount of toxic materials over a long period of time.

High levels of lead in the blood can cause lead poisoning, leading to brain damage, seizures, serious nervous system injury, and growth or mental disability in children. A recent study indicated the number of children with high blood lead levels is grossly underestimated. Most children aren’t properly tested or evaluated adequately, resulting in serious impacts to their health.

Cadmium is a known carcinogen. Exposure to cadmium can cause cancer. It is also linked to bone softening and severe kidney problems. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks cadmium as the seventh most hazardous substance in the environment.

Researchers of the new study warn the international glassware industry must take action. There are a wide range of safer alternatives available to use in manufacturing; however, harmful products continue to be used.

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