With Halloween behind us and Christmas on the horizon, many of us have succumbed to the high street’s festive-themed homeware; including decorated drinking glasses.

The University of Plymouth recently released the results of a study testing new and second-hand glasses with decorative enamel for the presence of heavy metals (Turner, 2017). Using XRF spectrometry they found that approximately 70% of products tested contained “potentially toxic” levels of cadmium and lead, with gold enamel containing the most lead, and red enamel containing the most cadmium (Turner, 2017).

The results showed that lead content in enamels tested ranged from 40-400,000 ppm, whilst cadmium content ranged from around 300 to 70,000 ppm, which, when compared with the US limit levels for the externally decorated lip area of drinking glasses of 200 ppm and 800 ppm, respectively, doesn’t really seem to be in the festive spirit.

Fourteen positive samples were then further tested by applying 4% acetic acid to the enamelled rim of the glasses and analysing it using ICP spectrometry. Out of the 14 samples, 13 exceeded the limit value for lead (0.5 mg/L) and five exceeded the limit value for cadmium (4 mg/L). Some samples were found to exceed 100 mg of lead per litre (200 times the limit value) and 40 mg of cadmium per litre (10 times the limit value). To create a more realistic use scenario the researchers then repeated the experiment on five positive samples using classic Coca-Cola, which, whilst resulting in lower concentrations, showed that lead still exceeded the limit value in all five cases.

An article (HealthDay, 2017) covering the above findings goes on to claim that in 2016 McDonald’s had to recall 12 million themed drinking glasses after the painted designs were shown to contain cadmium.

Even small amounts of lead and cadmium, if ingested regularly, can lead to significant health issues. Lead primarily attacks the central nervous system, infants being particularly susceptible, whereas the favoured target of cadmium is the kidney and bone (EMA, 2016).

Bibra is often asked to assess the health risks posed by heavy metals in consumer goods, pharmaceuticals and medical devices, and such elements regularly appear on the agenda of expert groups for assessment of toxicology and health risk. Bibra specialises in collating these authoritative efforts and indexing them within our TRACE database so that we always have the most up to date reviews quickly to hand.



EMA (2016). ICH guideline Q3D on elemental impurities. Step 5. Available at http://www.ema.europa.eu/docs/en_GB/document_library/Scientific_guideline/2015/01/WC500180284.pdf

HealthDay (2017). Available at https://medlineplus.gov/news/fullstory_169545.html

Turner A (2017). High levels of migratable lead and cadmium on decorated drinking glassware. Science of the Total Environment. Epub ahead of print.



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