Originally published: April 4, 2017
Updated: January 15, 2023
For those new to this website:
Tamara Rubin is a multiple-federal-award-winning independent advocate for childhood Lead poisoning prevention and consumer goods safety, and a documentary filmmaker. She is also a mother of Lead-poisoned children (two of her sons were acutely Lead-poisoned in 2005). Since 2009, Tamara has been using XRF technology (a scientific method used by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission) to test consumer goods for toxicants (specifically heavy metals — including Lead, Cadmium, Mercury, Antimony, and Arsenic). Tamara’s work was featured in Consumer Reports Magazine in February 2023 (March 2023 print edition).
The San Pellegrino green glass water bottle (pictured below) tested positive for 116 ppm Lead (Pb) when tested with an XRF instrument. My readers have asked a LOT of questions about this bottle since I first published this information. Please read the following questions and answers section compiled below, and let me know if you have any additional questions after reading. Thank you. (In response to inquiries from readers, I tested another example from this brand in 2022 and you can read the full test results for that bottle here, at this link.)
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 we do here at Lead Safe Mama, LLC is of the object (in this case the bottle) and 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) into the water contained in the bottle. That study is linked below in the comments of this article.
- To the “6 months” point: I have no idea how long the water is typically stored 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 at the plant, to when it is delivered to store shelves, to when it is sold to the end consumer? 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 and normally keep it in there for many months (before swapping it out) so we have some on hand in case of an emergency. I don’t think this is unusual for a product like this, which most people consider to be “long-term shelf stable.”
- 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 — or with added flavors or oils — like citrus flavored waters, for example).
- 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 website as soon as I have them.
- To be clear: Our concern for Lead in consumer goods (here at Lead Safe Mama, LLC) 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, 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!).
What is the unit of measurement for this test result, and how was the item tested?
- Answer: All of the readings for the testing we do (the consumer goods readings that we report here on the website) are in ppm (parts per million) as detected with an 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 of the item, and below 100 ppm Lead in the substrate.
- The single-use glass bottles that contain water sold for drinking are not considered to be “items 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 (1) part per million (ppm) equals 1,000 (one thousand) parts per billion (ppb).
- The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) considers water toxic and unsafe for children if it tests positive for 1 ppb Lead or higher.
- The U.S. Federal standard at which bottled water is considered unsafe (and illegal to be sold) is anything 5 ppb or higher.
- Tap water is considered toxic (according to yet another current U.S. Federal standard) at levels of 15 ppb and higher. (You may want to re-read this section a few times, for any hope of full comprehension, as it is both inherently confusing — and frankly, pretty disturbing!).
- XRF instrumentation does not detect in ppb. The lowest readings are generally in the range of 1 to 5 ppm, and — as such — XRF technology would not be appropriate instrumentation to test for water toxicity levels (separate from the fact that the instrument is not capable of testing liquids).
What is an XRF instrument?
- Answer: An XRF instrument is a scientific instrument that one must be trained and certified to use.
- An XRF instrument designed for accurately testing consumer goods down to single-digit parts per million (ppm) can cost $50,000 (or more) new (with all of the appropriate software installed).
- At Lead Safe Mama, LLC we use the same instrumentation (and software) used by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to screen consumer goods for toxicants/ heavy metals (to determine if items are safe for use by children). Here is an article about the XRF instrument we use here at Lead Safe Mama, LLC.
Is 116 ppm Lead in the green glass of this bottle considered to be “a lot of Lead?”
- Answer: As noted above in #2, the amount of Lead that is considered unsafe in an item (a consumer good) intended for use by children is either 90 ppm (for the paint or coating) or 100 ppm (for the substrate).
- This San Pellegrino green glass bottle (pictured below) tested only slightly higher than that limit.
- Because bottled water is a food product and because it is not marketed or explicitly sold as “an item intended for use by children,” this regulatory standard (dictating a limit for the allowable amount of Lead in the glass of bottle) does not apply, and as result, there is no standard or regulation that would consider this to be a “lot” of Lead.
- One relevant additional consideration: Modern tinted glass (of any color) nearly always tests positive for some amount of Lead. On the other hand, most modern, unpainted clear-glass items (including glassware for food and beverage packaging) are completely Lead-free. Accordingly, since Lead-free glass food packaging is a known achievable goal, my stand is that we really should demand that any glass bottle or jar containing food or beverage for human consumption be Lead-free. This might mean companies need to switch to clear glass if they cannot get the Lead contamination out of the glass pigments required to create their signature glass packaging color.
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 carbonated water or acidic beverages packaged in tinted-glass bottles.
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) usually tests positive for Lead in the range of 200,000 to 400,000 ppm; 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 of these bottles, nor how this bottled water is warehoused/ shipped/ stored (how hot or cold these environments get), nor how long it winds up sitting in the bottles — so I would assume there may be conditions under which the Lead from the glass packaging of this water could possibly be leaching (and if so, that would likely be at very low levels). I would not personally be super-concerned about a bottle with this level of Lead impacting the original contents, and — while I will no longer be purchasing this product for my family due to ethical/ political considerations primarily — if I were visiting your home and you served me a glass of this bottled water in a Lead-free glass ;-), I would not refuse it.
Some of our readers have told me they have reused these San Pellegrino green glass bottles for fermenting Kombucha. This I would NOT do. Even given an 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 definitively confirm the glaze to be Lead-free with scientific testing]).
Again, if you served water from this bottle to me while I was visiting your house I would likely be fine having some. Given federal restrictions on Lead in bottled water, unless you have a really effective water filtration system under your kitchen sink (link) your tap water probably has more Lead than this water, frankly.
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— there is no valid reason we as consumers ever need to accept ANY Lead, (nor Mercury, Cadmium, etc) in a bottle we might put to our lips and drink from!
There are plenty of examples of glass bottles — even some colored ones — that do not have any detectable levels of toxic heavy metals. Getting/ keeping heavy metals 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 very real and horrific health impacts borne by workers and their communities across the planet (by reducing the mining, refining, manufacturing, and distributing the 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).
We have installed a really good water filtration system in our home (our water test results came in at “less than 1 ppb” at our kitchen sink — the lowest level measured by most water tests, thanks to our filtration system), and use our own reusable water bottles most of the time so we rarely buy bottled water. Here are some Amazon affiliate links to the Lead-free water bottles I use with my family:
If you appreciate what we do here at Lead Safe Mama, LLC (independent consumer goods testing and childhood Lead poisoning prevention advocacy), the simplest way you can help support our work is to click on the Amazon affiliate links on this website. If you purchase something after clicking on one of our Amazon affiliate links we may receive a percentage of what you spend (at no extra cost to you). You don’t even have to buy the items pictured! 😉 Happy shopping!
Thank you for reading and for sharing the posts and articles here at LeadSafeMama.com/ TamaraRubin.com.
As always, please let me know if you have any questions and I will do my best to answer them personally as soon as I have a moment (although that may not be right away)!
Owner — Lead Safe Mama, LLC