AP IMPACT: Cadmium, lead found in drinking glasses

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The glasses were tested according to the procedure that the safety commission used in the “Shrek” recall. The decorated surface of each glass was stroked 30 times with water-soaked wipes, with each stroke representing a hand touch. The wipes were then analyzed for how many micrograms of lead, cadmium or other elements they collected.

Finally, for seven of the superhero and Oz glasses the lab extracted samples of the decorations. That colored enamel was analyzed for its total lead content.

“I was extremely surprised at the levels,” said Paul Perrotti, ToyTestingLab’s director, of the total content test. He said his lab has seen glasses that fail to meet government standards, “But not 30 percent lead.”

Despite what Perrotti described as “grossly high” levels, the wipe testing picked up very little lead coming out from these seven glasses. His staff had to use a diamond-tipped grinder to remove the colors, suggesting the enamel was strongly bonded to the glass.

Perrotti and glass engineers interviewed by AP said the surface of the glasses AP tested could break down with repeated use, scouring and trips to the dishwasher, making the metals more accessible.

Following a cascade of problems with products manufactured in China, Congress in 2008 passed strict new limits that effectively ban lead in any children’s product. The underlying materials in these products _ including the baked-in enamel _ cannot be more 0.03 percent lead.

Lead has long been known to reduce IQ in kids; recent research suggests cadmium also can damage young brains. Cadmium also is a carcinogen that can harm kidneys and bones, especially if it accumulates over time.

Cadmium, however, also happens to be an indispensable pigment for an important part of the color palette _ without it there is no “fire engine red” (think Superman’s cape and Dorothy’s slippers). Lead on the other hand is not essential.

A lot of a toxic metal in a glass does not necessarily mean a health hazard. Most of the 35 lab-tested glasses were safe under normal conditions _ their decorations shed very low or no detectable amounts of lead or cadmium. Among those that did release higher levels in the wipe test, none gave off nearly enough to make someone immediately sick, according to AP’s analysis of the results.

Instead, the concern is low levels of exposure over weeks or months, whether kids also are eating a sandwich or licking their fingers.

In addition to the seven contaminated Oz and superhero glasses, 10 others raised concern over longer-term contact _ two for both lead and cadmium, five for lead only and three for cadmium only. According to widely used computer modeling, the contamination that came off three of the glasses could measurably increase a child’s blood lead level.

If half of what gets onto a child’s hand enters their mouth, as the CPSC calculates, seven of the glasses would require fewer than 20 hand touches for kids age 6 and under to exceed U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines for the maximum amount of lead they should ingest in a day.

Most of the 10 additional glasses were released before 2000, including a Disney “Goofy” glass distributed by McDonald's that shed lead and cadmium, and three “Return of the Jedi” glasses from 1983 released by Burger King. One of the “Jedi” glasses hit the FDA lead level for 6-year-olds after just eight touches.

Both fast food chains said in statements that their glasses met applicable safety standards at the time they were manufactured. Disney, which ran several promotions with McDonald's for glassware AP tested, had no comment.

Using computer modeling, nationally recognized toxicologist Dr. Paul Mushak, who has advised government agencies including the CPSC and now operates a consulting practice in North Carolina, concluded that if half of what came off the glasses was ingested, it could raise a 5- to 6-year-old’s blood lead level by 11 percent on the high end and 4 percent on average.

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