Originally posted April 4, 2017
Updated December 22, 2019
Tamara Rubin is a independent advocate for consumer goods safety, and also a mother of Lead-poisoned children. She began testing consumer goods for toxicants in 2009 ,and was the parent-advocate responsible for finding Lead in the popular fidget spinner toys in 2017. She uses XRF testing (a scientific method used by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission) to test consumer goods for metallic toxicants, including Lead, Cadmium, Mercury and Arsenic.
The San Pellegrino green glass water bottle (pictured below) tested positive for 116 ppm Lead (Pb) when tested with a high-precision XRF instrument. My readers have a LOT of questions about this bottle when I first posted this information. Please read the following questions and answers below, and let me know if you have any additional questions after you read this. Thank you.
Question #1: Is this amount of Lead a problem? Is it leaching into the water?
- Answer: I have no idea if this is leaching or not, the testing I do of the object (in this case the bottle) only measures the total Lead content in the glass, not whether or not it is leaching or bioavailable in any way.
- A reader shared a recent study with me that indicated that bottled water kept in a low-level-Lead bottle for 6 months or more might leach Lead (at very trace levels) in to the water contained in the bottle. That study is linked below in the comments of this post.
- To the “6 months” point: I have no idea how long the water is typically in some of the bottles, and I believe that would be a significant factor in evaluating any potential concern. For example what is the timeline from when it is bottled to when it is delivered to store shelves to when it is sold? And how long does a consumer typically keep something like this in their pantry? Just one example: I typically store bottled water in my shed can keep in there for months (if it is well hidden from the kids!)
- Additionally the acidity of the water is a factor (including the natural acidity of the water from the source for any brand and any potential variations in acidity that might happen batch-to-batch.)
- While not an indicator of whether or not the Lead from the glass is leaching into the contents, I do have access to a lab for testing water, and will test a sample of this water to find out the Lead level. I will report those test results here on my blog as soon as I have them.
- To be clear: my concern for Lead in consumer goods is not limited to just whether or not a product may be directly toxic – or harmful at all – to any individual consumer; the overarching larger issue is whether as a civilization, we can afford to continue supporting the expansion of Lead mining, refining and manufacturing — and in particular, the gratuitous/unnecessary addition of (or trace contamination with) this incredibly potent, highly neurotoxic substance into consumer products [especially in the context of food or beverage containers!].
Question #2: What is the unit of measurement for this test result, and how was the item tested?
- Answer: All of the readings for the testing I do – the readings that are reported here on this blog are in ppm (parts per million) as detected with a high-precision XRF instrument. To learn more about XRF testing, Click HERE.
- In general, consumer goods toxicity is measured in parts per million (ppm), with the most relevant application being the standards used for testing items intended for use by children. Items intended for use by children are currently required (by U.S. Federal regulations) to be below 90 ppm Lead in the paint, glaze or coating, and below 100 ppm Lead in the substrate. The single-use glass bottles that contain water sold for drinking are not considered to be “an item intended for use by children” and, as such, do not have any regulatory limit for XRF-detectable Lead content.
- Separately, water toxicity is measured in parts per billion (ppb).
- One part per million (ppm) equals 1000 (one thousand) parts per million ppb. The American Academy of Pediatrics considers water toxic and unsafe for children if it tests positive for 1 ppb Lead or higher. The U.S. Federal standard for bottled water to be considered unsafe (and illegal) is anything 5 ppb or higher. Tap water is considered toxic (according to the current U.S. Federal standard) at levels of 15 ppb and higher. [You may want to re-read this paragraph a few times, for any hope of full comprehension, as it is both inherently confusing — and frankly, pretty disturbing!].
Question #3: What is an XRF instrument?
- Answer: An XRF instrument is a high precision scientific instrument that one must be trained and certified in order to use. An XRF designed for accurately testing consumer goods down to single digit parts per million (ppm) can cost $65,000 new (with all of the appropriate software installed.) Here is a post about the XRF instrument I use (and would like to own.)
Question #4: Is 116 ppm Lead “a lot of Lead”?
- Answer: As noted above in #2, the amount of Lead that is considered unsafe in an item intended for children (under some specific circumstances) is 100 ppm. This bottle tested only slightly higher than that limit. Because bottled water is not marked as “an item intended for use by children”, this regulatory standard does not apply, and there is no standard or regulation that would consider this to be a “lot” of Lead. That said, many modern clear-glass items are completely Lead-free — accordingly, my stand is that, we really should demand that any bottle or jar containing food or beverage for human consumption be Lead-free, if at all possible.
Question #4: But, Tamara – what is your educated opinion? Do you think it might be leaching?:
- Answer: Based on the Lead level of this water bottle being quite low… I would assume it is likely not leaching — although again, there are a lot of factors that might be considerations in determining this.
- Because I am a mother of Lead-poisoned children, and I am consequently a bit of a stickler for eliminating all easily-avoidable sources of Lead in my life, I have personally chosen to no longer buy this product – nor any other other carbonated water, or acidic beverages – packaged in tinted-glass bottles.
Question #5: Tamara, why do you think this is a “low” level of Lead for glass, especially since it is a higher reading than what is considered safe for children’s toys?
- Answer: For context, Leaded crystal (which we know for certain leaches, based on multiple studies that have been done) is usually something in the range of 200,000 to 400,000 ppm Lead; this green-glass soda water bottle is just 116 ppm lead — so yeah, really low by comparison to Leaded crystal! [Read more about Leaded crystal HERE.]
I don’t know the acidity of the contents, or how it is warehoused/shipped/stored (how hot or cold these environments get), or how long it winds up sitting in the bottles – so I would assume there may be conditions under which it could be leaching, but again I would not personally be super-concerned about a bottle with this level of Lead actually impacting the original contents…a couple of people have told me they have reused these bottles for fermenting Kombucha. This I would NOT do. Even given and arguably very slim possibility of leaching, the process of brewing Kombucha is exactly the kind of thing that would cause something to leach if it might. Kombucha should only be brewed (and pickles and kraut fermented) in known Lead-free vessels. I have been ejected from Facebook groups on fermenting for even broaching this valid issue [and for suggesting that vintage vessels are similarly not appropriate for fermenting, and glazed vessels are also not ideal for fermenting (unless you can positively confirm the glaze to be Lead-free!]
If you served water from this bottle to me while I was visiting your house – I would likely be fine having some [your tap water probably has more Lead than this water, frankly! (If you want to check your tap water for Lead, please Click HERE — my friend owns a company that makes a water test kit that you send away for and get lab results back in about 5 days)].
As I said, I have decided that I personally will no longer purchase bottled carbonated water in green bottles like this, just on principle. No matter how minute any actual health risk to my family might be (as I said, I would assume that to be quite low – if there is any risk at all)—there is no valid reason we as consumers ever need to accept ANY Lead, (nor Mercury, Cadmium, etc) in a bottle we put to our lips! There are plenty of examples of glass bottles – even some colored ones – that do not have any detectable levels of toxic heavy metals – and getting/keeping them out of as many of the products we consume as possible reduces not only the potential cumulative exposure for our families — but also helps to reduce the the very real and horrific health impacts borne by workers and their communities across the planet (by reducing the mining, refining, manufacturing and distribution in the form of finished goods and end-of-life handling and disposal of the millions of tons of these naturally-rare-but-now-ubiquitous toxicants in circulation in our environment.)
A final thought…we have installed a really good water filtration system in our home, and use our own reusable water bottles most of the time — so we don’t often buy bottled water.
I think that’s all I have to say about the matter right now! Thanks for reading! OMG, in less than a day this post has had 78 shares with a reach of 17,278 people – WOW!
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