A study done in the U.K. looking at the lead and cadmium content of the lip area of decorated drinkware, (drinking glasses, shot glasses, beer glasses, etc.) found these heavy metals in 70% of the samples they tested. All were made in China or a European country.  All colors of paint and glaze including gold leaf contained one or both of the metals. The results were published last week in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

Journal article abstract - https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969717328747

National Library of Medicine article summary: https://medlineplus.gov/news/fullstory_169545.html

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Both lead and cadmium are heavy metals. They are both toxic to the body.


Lead enters the body through the air, water or on things we put into our mouths (hands, contaminated toys, etc.).  It's absorbed into the blood and distributed throughout system including to the brain, heart, liver, kidneys, and spleen. What isn’t excreted in urine and feces, is eventually stored in the bones and teeth - which means if the source of lead isn’t removed, it will continue to accumulate. It is particularly damaging to young children because it affects brain development. This can result in:

- reduced attention span
- antisocial behavior
- lower IQ
- hyperactivity

The effects of lead on the developing brain and nervous system are considered permanent.

In addition, lead causes:
- slow growth
- hearing problems
- anemia

At high levels, it can cause convulsions, coma and death.


In women, the hormones of pregnancy cause lead stored in the mom’s bones, to be released into the bloodstream. Lead crosses the placenta into the developing fetus and causes:

- Slow fetal growth
- premature birth

After birth, a baby can be further exposed to lead through its mother’s milk.

In adults, lead can cause:
- high blood pressure
- anemia
- decreased kidney function
- infertility  

Symptoms of lead poisoning include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Forgetfulness
  • Irritability
  • Inability to focus
  • Nausea

Sources of lead include:

Dust and chips of lead based paint. Although lead based paint  was banned in the U.S. in 1978, it still remains a problem in older homes.
Candies imported from Mexico (https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/tips/candy.htm)
Lead crystal glassware (https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/healthy-living/your-health/products/lead-crystalware-your-health.html#po)
Artificial Turf (https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/tips/artificialturf.htm)
Folk Medicines (https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/tips/folkmedicine.htm)
Toy Jewelry (https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/tips/jewelry.htm)
Toys (https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/tips/toys.htm)

Cadmium enters the body through our food supply, water or air. Unlike lead, it is stored in the kidneys and liver. Continued intake of cadmium over time will eventually damage the kidneys. If it enters the body through the air, it can cause lung cancer.

Over time, the following symptoms of cadmium poisoning may occur:

-Progressive loss of lung function (emphysema),
-Abnormal buildup of fluid within the lungs (pulmonary edema),
-Shortness of breath
-Increased saliva
-Yellowing of the teeth;
-Rapid heart rate
-Decreased kidney function
-Softening of the bones

To reduce the risk of cadmium exposure, the U.S. Agency for Toxic   Substances & Disease Registry offers these suggestions:

  • Don’t smoke:  Cadmium from the soil accumulates in tobacco leaves.
  • Properly handle  nickel-cadmium batteries:
  • Contact waste authority in your town to find out how to recycle these batteries
  • Don’t allow children to play with nickel- cadmium batteries

In addition to these preventative actions, check to see where any glazed drinking glasses, mugs, steins, etc., are made before purchasing them in addition to checking the drinkware you have at home. Be cautious if you find a “Made in China” label or a label that identifies a European country as the place of manufacture.

Testing for lead and cadmium

Testing for both lead and cadmium is done with blood work. Talk with your health care provider if suspect you or someone you know has been exposed to either of these metals.

For more information:

Centers for Disease Control
General information

Sources of lead


Environmental Protection Agency


National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Lead - Information for Workers

U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry
Public Health Statement for Cadmium