High lead levels found in glass bottles


Tuesday, 02 July, 2019


High lead levels found in glass bottles

Research conducted at the University of Plymouth in the UK has discovered potentially harmful levels of toxic elements in the bottles and enamelled decorations of beer, wine and spirits.

The research analysed the glass and enamelled decorations on a variety of clear and coloured bottles available in shops and supermarkets, finding that cadmium, lead and chromium were all present in the glass, but at concentrations deemed to be of low significance regarding environmental and health risks.

With results published in Environmental Science and Technology, the study found the cadmium and lead concentrations in the enamels to be of particular concern, with cadmium levels up to 20,000 ppm measured in the decorated regions on a range of spirits, beer and wine bottles, and lead concentrations up to 80,000 ppm in the decor of various wine bottles. The limit for lead in consumer paints is 90 ppm.

The research conducted by Associate Professor (Reader) in Aquatic Geochemistry and Pollution Science, Dr Andrew Turner involved the purchase of bottles of beer, wine and spirits from local and national retail outlets in the UK between September 2017 and August 2018, in sizes ranging from 50 to 750 mL.

The glass analysed was clear, frosted, green, ultraviolet-absorbing green (UVAG) or brown, with several bottles enamel coated over part of the exterior surface with images, patterns, logos, text and/or barcodes of a single colour or multiple colours.

Out of the glass from 89 bottles and fragments analysed using X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometry, 76 were positive for low levels of lead and 55 positive for cadmium. Chromium was detected in all green and UVAG bottles, but was only in 40% of brown glass and was never in clear glass.

The enamel of 12 of 24 enamelled products tested was based wholly or partly on compounds of either lead and/or cadmium.

The study showed the elements had the potential to leach from enamelled glass fragments, and when subjected to a standard test that simulates rainfall in a landfill site, several fragments exceeded the US Model Toxins in Packaging Legislation and could be defined as “hazardous”.

Dr Turner said, “It has always been a surprise to see such high levels of toxic elements in the products we use on a daily basis. This is just another example of that, and further evidence of harmful elements being unnecessarily used where there are alternatives available. The added potential for these substances to leach into other items during the waste and recycling process is an obvious and additional cause for concern.

“Governments across the world have clear legislation in place to restrict the use of harmful substances on everyday consumer products. But when we contacted suppliers, many of them said the bottles they use are imported or manufactured in a different country than that producing the beverage. This poses obvious challenges for the glass industry and for glass recycling and is perhaps something that needs to be factored in to future legislation covering this area.”

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/draghicich

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