Many drinking glasses could contain dangerous levels of toxins, study finds

6 Nov 2017

Image: Jordi Prat Puig/Shutterstock

A recent study into common drinking glasses has found that many could contain dangerous amounts of toxins.

As if it didn’t worry us enough that much of our drinking water is contaminated with microplastics, a new study has found that the glasses we are drinking from could be even more toxic.

In a paper published to the journal Science of the Total Environment, a team from the University of Plymouth revealed its research into enamelled drinking glasses and popular merchandise.

Having carried out 197 tests on 72 new and secondhand drinking glass products, including tumblers, jars, and beer and wine glasses, it was found that many contained dangerous levels of lead and cadmium.

Lead was present in 139 cases and cadmium in 134, both on the surface of the glasses and, in some cases, on the rims. Of the glasses tested, concentration levels of lead ranged from 40 to 400,000 parts per million (ppm), despite the fact that US Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment put the limit at just 200ppm.

The danger was pinpointed to flakes that come away from the glass when testing replicated sustained use, suggesting that the toxin level grows over time.

Dr Andrew Turner, head researcher on the project, said he was shocked at the findings.

Drinking glasses analysis

Dr Andrew Turner analyses an item of glassware using portable x-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometry. Image: Lloyd Russell/University of Plymouth

“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,” he said.

“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.”

Other products that were tested and subsequently found to contribute to higher levels of toxins included: the exteriors of bottles for the storage of beer, wine or spirits; the external text and logos on egg cups, jugs and measuring cups; and the undersides of coasters and chopping boards.

Turner questioned the use of such chemicals in manufacturing, asking: “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.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic