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).
Many of my readers have contacted me recently with questions about the popular Shutterfly photo mugs. As a result, I went and purchased one new (February 2020) so I could share the XRF test results with you. Below are two sets of readings from the mug pictured here.
The XRF reading on my son Charlie’s red shirt on the mug in the photo — tested for 60 seconds:
- Lead (Pb): 174 +/- 36 ppm
- Barium (Ba): 1,538 +/- 154 ppm
- Zinc (Zn): 28,800 +/- 1,100 ppm
- Copper (Cu): 544 +/- 94 ppm
- Iron (Fe): 794 +/- 235 ppm
- Vanadium (V): 1,056 +/- 103 ppm
- Titanium (Ti): 2,028 +/- 177 ppm
- Zirconium (Zr): 27,900 +/- 1,200 ppm
- Platinum (Pt): 367 +/- 177 ppm
The reading on the mug’s red handle — 60 seconds:
(Note: The red glaze on the inside of the cup is the same as the glaze on the handle.)
- Cadmium (Cd): 569 +/- 36 ppm
- Barium (Ba): 505 +/- 87 ppm
- Zinc (Zn): 18,800 +/- 700 ppm
- Copper (Cu): 442 +/- 73 ppm
- Iron (Fe): 820 +/- 198 ppm
- Vanadium (V): 69 +/- 25 ppm
- Titanium (Ti): 185 +/- 40 ppm
- Zirconium (Zr): 15,600 +/- 500 ppm
XRF testing of this mug was done for a minimum of 60 seconds per component, with tests repeated multiple times to confirm the results. Results are science based, accurate, and replicable.
How much Lead is “too much” Lead?
How about Cadmium?
The amount of Lead considered unsafe today — and illegal per current U.S. f ederal regulations) — in a modern/ newly-manufactured item intended “for use by children” is anything 90 ppm Lead or higher in the paint/ glaze, or coating, and anything 100 ppm Lead or higher in the substrate.
Mugs are not regulated using these total content limits as they are not considered to be “items intended for use by children,” so the amount of Lead found in this mug is considered totally safe and legal by any (and all) current applicable federal standards.
There is not a United States/ national/ federal standard for total Cadmium content in the glazes or coatings of dishware as detectable with an XRF instrument. In the absence of a relevant current U.S.regulation, I turn to state and foreign regulations for guidance and context.
- The country of Denmark considers consumer goods toxic, and unsafe — also, illegal — if they contain 75 ppm Cadmium or more.
- The U.S. State of Washington has a limit of 40 ppm for Cadmium in dishes that children might use.
Again, coffee mugs are generally considered by regulatory agencies to be “items intended for use by adults” (not kids!) — so it is unlikely this mug would be considered illegal by the Washington state (but I will send this article to them to get their feedback)!
Will I get cancer from drinking from this mug?
Just because this tests positive for Cadmium, doesn’t mean it will definitely cause cancer — or necessarily pose any risk at all — to the user of the mug (and samples of the product were likely leach-tested at the time of manufacture). But WHY are we taking ANY — even potentially possible (theoretical?) — risks with a heavy metal that is SO TOXIC? (AND THIS IS THE COATING THAT IS ON THE INSIDE OF THE CUP!!!!)
History has shown that we cannot put all our trust in manufacturers (nor in regulatory standards). Over the 10+ years that I have been doing consumer goods testing, I have found very high XRF-detectable Lead levels in dishes that ostensibly “complied with all current Federal standards” (i.e. passed a perfunctory leach-test) at the time of manufacture 15 or 20 years ago (or longer), but later (after long-term regular use under normal circumstances) began leaching — and actually, in some cases, were identified as the likely poisoning source for a child. I suspect the same concern (future leaching – despite an item having passed a leach-test at the time of manufacture) may be warranted with Cadmium-containing products, especially products like a coffee mug that the user is normally expected to use daily — with a hot and highly-acidic beverage (like coffee), as well as subject to years of dishwashing!
On principle, Cadmium simply does not belong in our dishes or cookware.
Just because an item may pass leach-testing at the time of manufacture does not mean that it is harmless — particularly to workers (in the manufacturing supply chain), and to our environment. The companies that are knowingly using Cadmium-based pigments are supporting and expanding the demand for the mining, refining, and manufacturing of these Cadmium-based pigments, thereby contributing to the toxic pollution of our planet (presently and for future generations).
What’s a safer choice?
You can start by ordering your photos not in the form of a mug (maybe a t-shirt, instead? or something that hangs on the wall?). Also, new mugs by this company will likely be a safer choice if they don’t have the red accents and interior (although this is the only new Shutterfly mug I have tested for which I happen to have an exact confirmed date of manufacture, so I don’t know that definitively/ don’t really have specific evidence to support that speculative recommendation for possible Cadmium reduction or avoidance).
Some additional reading that may be of interest:
- To read more about the concern for Cadmium in consumer goods, click here.
- To read more about the concern for Lead in pottery and dishware, click here.
- To see more mugs I have tested, click here.
- To see more photo mugs I have tested, click here.
- To better understand the testing methodologies I use, click here.
Thank you for reading and sharing these results!