After tests discovered that millions of Americans' drinking water were contaminated with lead, infrastructure quickly became a hot topic while average Americans looked for new ways to prevent lead contamination. Unfortunately, though, your drinking water might not be the only issue. You could be voluntarily contaminating your food with lead and cadmium and not even realize it. Here’s how.
Although glassware is generally considered safe, your drinking glasses may be contaminated with lead and cadmium metal. These two heavy metals are often added to low-quality glass products to help them melt during the manufacturing process, but they can have adverse effects on your health. Therefore, you should know how to identify lead or cadmium-contaminated products.
In this guide, we’ll help explain why glassware sometimes contains lead and cadmium, how these two metals can affect your health, and how you can quickly spot bad drinking glasses. Use this information to buy safe products and protect your family at home.
What is Lead?
Despite its bad reputation, lead is nothing more than a naturally occurring metal found within the Earth’s surface. Yet, unlike iron, aluminum, or gold, even small amounts of lead can leach into our bodies and wreak permanent havoc on our internal systems. What’s worse is that it’s so easy to find small amounts of lead in our everyday lives.
Lead exists in the soil around us, in the water we use to wash our clothes, and even in the air we breathe—mostly as a result of fossil fuels and other chemical processes. For decades, common household products such as gasoline, paint, and even our dishes were laced with lead to help stabilize the compounds. Unfortunately, though, all that lead was seeping into Americans’ nervous systems.
Today, the OSHA and EPA have worked hard to reduce the amount of lead in our everyday consumer goods, but you still have to be careful to avoid it in both imported and antique products.
Is Lead Glass Safe?
You likely won’t show signs of acute lead poisoning unless you’ve been exposed to a high level of lead in a short amount of time. If you have, though, you may experience sudden:➔ Fatigue and physical weakness
➔ Tingling sensations
➔ Abdominal pain and constipation
➔ Loss of appetite
➔ Irritability and moodiness
➔ Short-term memory loss
Unfortunately, though, most victims don’t show signs of lead poisoning until months or even years of exposure have passed. This is what makes lead poisoning so insidious. You could be slowly poisoning yourself over many months without even realizing it and, by the time you do realize it, the damage could be permanent.
Long-term lead exposure can cause nerve damage, permanent memory loss, intellectual disabilities in children, and even miscarriages and death. Therefore, it’s crucial that you inspect your glassware for lead before it affects your health.
What is Cadmium
Like lead, cadmium is another naturally occurring metal found within the Earth’s surface. It has a soft, whitish-blue tone and is commonly found alongside zinc ore. Today, it’s commonly used in jewelry and accessories, rechargeable batteries, and other industrial products and is sometimes used as a coating for electronics, solar panels, plastics, and dyes, and pigments.
Although it’s less well-known than lead, cadmium is also a highly toxic heavy metal. Unfortunately, it’s far more commonly used in everyday products—from electronics to cookware and kitchen utensils.
Is Cadmium Glass Safe?
Just as lead takes a while to accumulate in the body, cadmium poisoning doesn’t happen overnight. However, once enough toxins have built up, you can suffer equally severe symptoms that persist for years or even a lifetime. These symptoms include:➔ Kidney disease
➔ Loss of bone mass
➔ Nerve damage
➔ Cardiovascular weakness
Your body can process cadmium and remove it through the urinary system, but it takes time to completely eliminate the heavy metal. During that time, cadmium continues to wreak havoc as it circulates through your blood, liver, and kidneys.
Lead and Cadmium Used in Drinking Glasses
Although lead and cadmium have been used for decades in industrial processes, it wasn’t clear just how common these two metals are in common kitchenware—especially drinking glasses. However, in a 2017 study completed at the University of Plymouth, researchers discovered that roughly 70% of all drinking vessels contained traces of lead and cadmium.
Although not all of those drinking glasses contained dangerous amounts of lead and cadmium, the sheer volume of glasses that contained heavy metals is noteworthy. Furthermore, some of the tested glassware proved to have hundreds and even thousands of times more lead than what the EPA deems safe for human use.
Under current regulations set by the US Office of Environmental Health and Hazard Assessment, any lead concentration higher than 200 parts per million is too high for human consumption. This means that some drinking vessels had as much as 400,000 parts lead for every 1,000,000 parts. At this concentration, you and your family would surely be at risk for lead poisoning.
So, if the average person knows that lead and cadmium are toxic in high volumes, why do manufacturers continue producing drinking vessels with such high heavy metal concentrations? It comes down to cutting costs and improving the overall look of their products.
When manufacturers mix lead with glass, it oxidizes and helps the glass melt at a lower temperature. The glass is then easier to manipulate and bend into an aesthetic shape without having to heat it for longer periods. Additionally, many decorative drinking glasses are coated with a lead or cadmium-based enamel that, if scratched, flakes off, leaving lead and cadmium in your drink.
Lead and Cadmium-Free Drinking Glasses
If you are concerned about your family’s health, rest assured that not all drinking glasses contain lead. While the 2017 University of Plymouth study does highlight just how common lead and cadmium are in drinking vessels, you can avoid contaminating your beverages by purchasing higher-quality lead-free glasses.
There are plenty of lead and cadmium-free drinking vessels available on the market if you know how to look for them. Before you start shopping, though, take a moment to inspect your own glasses. If they’re already lead and cadmium-free, there’s no point replacing them. Follow our guidelines in the next section to figure out if your glasses are lead-free.
How to Tell if a Drinking Glass Contains Lead
First and foremost, if you are not drinking from crystal, antique glassware, or decorative glass, your glassware is most likely lead-free. However, it doesn’t hurt to check. Start by picking up a glass and feel the weight in your hand. Lead glass is typically much heavier than lead-free glass due to the higher metal content in the crystals.
After feeling the weight of the glass in your hand, tap the side of the glass with either your fingernail or the tongs of a fork. If it makes a gentle clink, your glassware is most likely safe. However, if it makes a long ring, it may contain heavy metals. The longer the ring goes on, the more lead or cadmium your drinkware contains.
Another way to tell if your drinkware is lead-free is to hold it up to the light. Standard glassware is better at refracting light, meaning you should be able to see a prism of light breaking into a rainbow. If you struggle to make a rainbow no matter how you hold the glass, it could contain lead.
If you are still unsure, you can test your glassware by leaving a cup of distilled white vinegar in one of your drinking glasses overnight. Because vinegar is naturally acidic, the lead will quickly dissolve into the vinegar and you can test it after 12 hours for signs of contamination. Lead test kits are cheap and easy to find at most hardware stores.
Is it Safe to Drink from Antique Glassware?
As beautiful as your inherited glassware might be, your great-grandmother’s set of stemware could be contaminated with high levels of cadmium and lead. Products produced prior to the 1970s weren’t subjected to the same stringent tests and regulations as today so lead and cadmium were likely both added during the production process.
If you’re attached to your antique drinking glasses, we recommend testing them for lead before using them and, if they test positive, only keep them as decoration. Using them as drinkware could put your and your family’s health at risk.
Are Drinking Glasses from China Safe?
Chinese products are often subject to a lot of skepticism – and rightly so. Over the years, China built a reputation of having low quality products and especially with kitchenware, drew lots of criticism over the safety of the products that they were exporting to the US. After years and years of bad experiences by consumers, there has been a general pull away from Chinese-made products and more focus on European-made products instead because of their well-known and trusted manufacturing process. But of course knowing where the glass is from isn’t enough, so, how do we know what glasses are really safe?
Beyond checking every glass for lead and cadmium, you can follow a few standard rules to avoid low-quality products:➔ Only buy glassware from a reputable store.
➔ Check the company’s testing documents online and look for lead-free and cadmium-free labels on the packaging
➔ Look for other labels warning you not to consume food or beverages from the glassware such as;
If you live in California, you can also look for a mandatory lead warning. Under California Proposition 65, manufacturers must label goods if they contain lead above FDA-approved levels. This warning reads as follows:
“WARNING: This product can expose you to chemicals including lead, which is known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.”
Is it Possible to Find Lead and Cadmium-Free Crystal?
For nearly all of history, crystal glass has been produced using a mix of lead and cadmium. By adding these two heavy metals during the manufacturing stage, crystal makers were able to create strong and beautiful glass with intricate designs. However, as the general public has learned just how dangerous lead and cadmium can be, it’s left many wondering if they can still safely use crystal glass.
Fortunately, modern manufacturers have devised a unique way to make high-quality crystal glass without polluting it with toxic heavy metals. Instead, they add a mixture of potassium oxide, barium oxide, and zinc oxide. Although this process still requires added metals, potassium, barium, and zinc are all safe for human use.
Nonetheless, always be sure to check the manufacturer’s webpage the next time you’re shopping for expensive crystal drinkware. Don’t let your posh taste destroy your health.
What is the Safest Glass to Drink From?
Although it’s hard to know exactly what goes into the manufacturing process, the safest drinking glasses are those produced by well-known, well-respected, and well-established glassware companies. Any glassware company worth its reputation has allowed their products to undergo rigorous testing for lead and cadmium to guarantee their customer’s safety.
Click here to buy our high-quality, lead and cadmium free, European made glassware products. Take care of your family.
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Although no company readily advertises that their products contain dangerous levels of heavy metals, recent research has shown that a majority of drinking vessels contain trace amounts of lead and cadmium. Protect your and your family’s health by inspecting your drinking vessels and investing in guaranteed lead/cadmium-free products. It’s not worth it to save a few dollars on glassware and put your health at risk. If you take the risk with your health, you could suffer life-long consequences.