Article image

Dangerous levels of lead found in decorated drinking glasses

According to research from the University of Plymouth, embellished drinking glasses often contain high levels of lead and cadmium. The study found concentrations of lead that were more than 1,000 times the limit.

The research team performed 197 tests on 72 new and used drinking glasses, including tumblers, beer mugs, wine glasses, and jars.

Lead was present in 139 tests and cadmium was present in 134, both on the surface of the glasses and on the rims. When long-term use was simulated on the glasses, paint often flaked and came off the glass. This suggested that the substances may be ingested with sustained use.

The research adds to a growing collection of evidence that people are often unsuspectingly exposed to toxic substances. Lead author Dr. Andrew Turner also led a study to examine the potential danger of playground paints. The evaluation revealed that children are at risk for ingesting paint flakes from play equipment, but Dr. Turner believes that drinking glasses pose an even greater risk.

“The presence of hazardous elements in both the paint and glaze of decorated glassware has obvious implications for both human health and the environment,” said Dr. Turner. “So it was a real surprise to find such high levels of lead and cadmium, both on the outside of the glassware and around the rim. There are genuine health risks posed through ingesting such levels of the substances over a prolonged period, so this is clearly an issue that the international glassware industry needs to take action on as a matter of urgency.”

The researchers examined the glassware using portable x-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometry. Over 70 percent of the glass products tested positive for lead, which was found in all colors including decorated gold leaves present on some of the glasses. The same percentage of glassware tested positive for cadmium, with the highest levels detected in red enamel.

The lead concentrations ranged from 40 to 400,000 parts per million, while the levels of cadmium ranged from 300 to 70,000 parts per million. According to the U.S. Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, the limit levels for the decorated surface rim area of drinking glasses are 200 parts per million for lead and 800 parts per million for cadmium.

“Given that safer alternatives are available to the industry, the overall results of this study are both surprising and concerning,” said Dr. Turner. “Why are harmful or restricted elements still being employed so commonly to decorate contemporary glassware manufactured in China, the European Union and elsewhere? I believe consumers should be made aware of this, while retailers and the glass industry have the responsibility to eliminate toxic metals from decorated products.”

The study is published in Science of the Total Environment.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day