Here’s the video showing me testing two of these cups. Please continue reading the article (and the letter to the owner of the company) below the video.
View this post on Instagram
January 8, 2022 – Sunday
NOTE: The component of these Cupkin children’s cups that is positive for unsafe and illegal levels of Lead is the sealing dot on the OUTSIDE (non-food-contact) surface of the cup. If the colorful coating on the exterior of your cup is intact and has not been worn or damaged at all yet, there is not yet likely any exposure risk to your child. If the coating is worn on the bottom of the cup – there is potential for significant Lead exposure to a child. Regardless of the state of the coating on your cup, given the significant level of Lead present owners of these cups should stop using them immediately and read the full article below. The level of Lead found in these products by Lead Safe Mama, LLC is illegal based on standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission in 2008. This is the same issue (in many ways) that precipitated the November 2022 recall for the Green Sprouts Insulated Stainless Steel baby bottles – link.
Before getting into the meat of this article I want to start by highlighting the Cupkin business philosophy which is so clearly stated on their website and can be seen in the screenshot at the top of this page. The question is whether or not the philosophy of the company will carry over into how they respond to what I expect will be rather unwelcome news. I will be submitting a CPSC violation report for this product and I will update this article with a link to that as soon as it has been filed. Their main four philosophy points as show in the above graphic are below (the points most relevant here are highlighted in pink.)
- Dream FIERCELY – Everything in this world started with a crazy idea.
- Act BOLDLY – Challenge the status quo and always lead by example.
- Live PURPOSEFULLY – Mistakes happen and failure hurts, but fear won’t stop us.
- Serve BRAVELY – Do the right thing and expect nothing in return.
And with that, here’s to hoping that CUPKIN upholds their published corporate philosophy and….
- …”Acts boldly” and “leads by example” in handling this problem in an ethical and above board way (correcting whatever mistakes led to this situation and making appropriate public statements as soon as they learn of this issue with their products – which will be January 9, 2023 – unless they are normally up late!)
- …”Lives purposefully”, admitting their “mistakes” and correcting their mistakes and “not letting fear stop them” in responding honestly and with a conscience to the science demonstrating that their product has unsafe and illegal levels of Lead. Because LEAD does hurt children (causing permanent brain damage and a host of other symptoms – link here with more info) and should not be found in products expressly made for use by children and especially products overtly and publicly advertised to be Lead-free.
- …”Serves bravely” and “does the right thing” in honoring their customers first (in the weeks and months that follow this moment) – not letting their concern for corporate liability, their bottom line and looking bad in the face of accusations of greenwashing lead them to deflection around the very real concern for the science-based findings that a component of their product tested positive significant levels of Lead.
A note to Max, the owner of Cupkin:
A step by step guide of suggested next steps for your company (related to this concern) is below – please read this entire article. I will also send you the CPSC violation notice for your products as soon as I have filed it / as soon as it is published.
Two images from the Cupkin public statements asserting there is no Lead in their products. Continue reading below the images.
How much Lead is too much Lead?
What’s the problem with this product?
Why is this a problem?
The most important thing to note here is that this cup clearly, definitely and expressly violates the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) of 2008. That law requires that the paint or coating of an item intended for use by children not test positive for Lead at levels of 90 parts per million (ppm) or higher in ANY ONE COMPONENT of the item. That regulatory standard also requires that the Lead levels of the substrate (the base metal or plastic or other materials) of an item made for use by children not test positive for Lead at levels of 100 ppm or higher.
In this particular case the “sealing dot” that creates the vacuum seal of the CUPKIN cup (applied to the outside of the cup / not in contact with the contents of the cup) consistently tests positive (on the three Cupkin product examples tested by Lead Safe Mama, LLC so far between October 2022 and January of 2023) for Lead levels in the range of 500,000 ppm or higher – not 100 ppm – or even 500 ppm – but 500,000 ppm (this is 50% Lead). This is a violation of the substrate maximum levels allowed under the CPSIA of 2008. This is the SAME PROBLEM for which the Green Sprouts Insulated Stainless Steel baby bottle was recalled in November of 2022 – a nearly solid Lead sealing dot used to create the vacuum seal to impart the insulative qualities in a stainless steel product (link). This is actually a problem with MANY brands of insulated stainless water bottles and other vessels – you can read more about that here.
But is this actually a problem? / Why is this a problem?
For context (if you are not yet familiar with my work), my children have permanent brain damage and other disabilities from Lead poisoning and I do this work to help you protect YOUR children from having the same outcome as my children have had. The goal is not to instill fear in parents, but to hold companies accountable to keeping their word AND to help support legislative initiatives that actually protect our children from companies that sell toxic products. Please watch the documentary feature film that I directed and produced (on childhood Lead poisoning) – it is a crash course in the issue. Here’s a link.
Outside of the fact that the level of Lead found in the substrate of these cups is ILLEGAL – and outside of the fact that it is an egregious example of greenwashing (especially given the company’s repeated claims that their products are – in fact – Lead free) Here’s the problem with these cups:
- In normal use as intended it is possible (and expected – given the intended user of these cups is toddlers) that the bottom coating on these cups will wear. When the bottom coating on these cups wears it will expose this blob of what is essentially solid Lead – at a point where it can be touched and interacted with by a child. This is especially concerning given the tendency of most children to rub a dimple or imperfection out of habit (if you are a parent of a baby or toddler you have likely experienced this!)
- All Federal agencies agree that there is no safe level of Lead exposure for children, even a microscopic amount of Lead exposure can cause permanent brain damage (and other life-long significant health impacts) and THIS is what we are trying to prevent and why it is so important to buy Lead-free products for our children. Read this for context – an illustration of how much Lead it takes to poison a child.
- But is this cup actually going to poison your child? Well – I have been working in this field since my children were poisoned more than 17 years ago. I help families of Lead poisoned children around the world every single day and I know (from my work) that yes, IF a Leaded sealing dot on a cup like this is exposed and IF a child uses that cup, it has the potential to cause Lead exposure that is measurable in a Blood Lead Level (BLL) test. (More info on BLL testing here.) I have worked with at least three families where the primary source of exposure was likely the exposed sealing dot on a toddler cup or bottle with this type of construction. Given a child normally uses the same cup every day (as their favorite cup!) potential impacts from regular use of a toxic product like this are not insignificant.
Here are a few additional pieces I have written on the subject:
- Is this item actually going to poison me (or my child).
- People say this is fear mongering – a little Lead is not a big deal.
- My family says I worry too much, they were exposed to Lead as babies or children and they turned out “fine.”
- Concerned your child might have been exposed to Lead from a product they use? Read this.
What should you do if you are a parent who owns one of these cups?
- Even if the paint on your cup is not worn, stop using your Cupkin cups immediately.
- If your cup has an exposed sealing dot on the bottom (if the colorful coating/ paint is at all worn) consider asking your pediatrician for a BLL test for your child (especially if your child has not been tested in the past six months.) You can read more about that here and here.
- Set the cup aside in a ziplock baggie – along with any receipt or proof of purchase if you have that (in case there is a class action suit or other legal action related to this product.)
- If your cup is worn at all (if the Leaded sealing dot on the bottom of your cup is exposed) please do email me with photos as I will include those in my violation reports to the Consumer Product Safety Commission about these cups. TamaraRubin@mac.com
- Stay tuned here (subscribe to the Lead Safe Mama newsletter – it’s free – LINK, or follow us on Instagram and Facebook) to get the latest updates. If and when the company responds I will (as I always do) publish that response here on the site.
- Contact the company and let them know you are outraged and would like a refund (and that you expect them to do better in the future.) BE RESPECTFUL. DEMAND CHANGE. The owner publicly shares this email: Max@cupkin.com and this (Seattle-based) number for texting: 206.293.3832 – I have already emailed him the link to this article.
- For some Lead-free children’s cup options, click here.
How did this happen? How could a company making a Lead-free cup end up with Lead in their cups (and at such extremely high levels too!)
I think the Cupkin website (which shares their journey over the past several years – see screenshots below) really clearly speaks to how this could happen. If in fact their cups were ever Lead free (and I have no evidence that they were as I have not tested any of their products prior to October of 2022) I would expect that the expansive growth and need to meet demand that they describe on their site (combined with outsourcing production overseas during the pandemic) has led to a gap in accountability and production oversight that left them holding a Leaded cup instead of the Lead-free one that they intended to make. This is quite concerning given they boast (screenshot below) about having sold over 1,000,000 products (they also make sticker books, so I don’t know how many of their products sold are cups – but I expect given the name of the company is Cupkin it is likely a majority of their 1,000,000+ units.)
Continue reading below the image.
Did they know about this issue? Well – who knows (now they know, as I will text and email this article to the owner of the company as soon as it is published.) The bigger question is – how long have they known about this issue? AND – if they are just finding out about this issue tonight, what are the gaps in their product sourcing and manufacturing process that allowed this to happen given their commitment (as noted in their public statements) OR was it all just Greenwashing to begin with?
An interesting point to note:
After I purchased some additional cups to test (directly from their website) I got an email from the owner (sent out to all new customers) that he ran into the owner of Hydroflask and he planned to share about that experience (see image above – which you can click on to read it full sized).
I wonder if the owner of Hyrdroflask told him that it was originally Tamara Rubin who found the Lead in the Hydroflask products (back in 2011 and 2012) and that my testing is what pushed them to switch the vacuum sealing method for their products (not once, but twice – as the second “Lead free” alternative that Hydroflask tried early on also tested positive for high levels of Lead!) Hydroflask is now 100% Lead free – since 2014 (in response to my work informing them that they had Lead in their products over ten years ago), but I really wonder if they are sharing with others in their industry about the journey they went on and the issues with manufacturing that could cause this sort of thing to happen. It seems like a good lesson to (charitably) share with others in your industry.
Continue reading below the image
Full XRF test results for the cup pictured
The cups in question are the pink and purple cup set purchased from the Cupkin store on Amazon. I first tested a cup from this brand (brought to me at a public outreach event in October of 2022 in North Carolina) and found it to be positive for Lead in the sealing dot (on the bottom exterior of the cup.) In response I purchased multiple new examples to test and found the results consistent across the brand.
To reiterate a point stated above: the Lead is in the bottom exterior sealing dot and does not come in contact with the contents of the cup HOWEVER it is illegal to have this much Lead in ANY COMPONENT of an item intended for use by children as it may become exposed with normal wear and use of the item as intended (wear that would be anticipated to happen in a product used daily by toddlers and young children.) The presence of a Leaded sealing dot is the same reason the Green Sprouts insulated stainless steel baby bottle was recalled (thanks to the work of the Lead Safe Mama community) in November of 2022. You can read about that recall here.
Reading #1) Sealing Dot [Pink Cup, all colors test similarly!]
60-second test – repeated multiple times to confirm the results
Metals noted in red are toxic
Metals noted in blue are not considered unsafe in this application
- Lead (Pb): 508,500 +/- 4,800 ppm Lead
- Cadmium (Cd): Non-detect
- Tin (Sn): Non-detect
- Mercury (Hg): Non-detect
- Selenium (Se): 733 +/- 248 ppm
- Barium (Ba): 17,400 +/- 500 ppm
- Chromium (Cr): 7,442 +/- 1,507
- Antimony (Sb): Non-detect
- Copper (Cu): 3,727 +/- 297 ppm
- Zinc (Zn): 5,757 +/- 315 ppm
- Manganese (Mn): 4,059 +/- 891 ppm
- Titanium (Ti): 406,000 +/- 5,600 ppm
- Zirconium (Zr): 873 +/- 110 ppm
- Niobium (Nb): 947 +/- 130 ppm
- Iron (Fe): 4,836 +/- 696 ppm
- Vanadium (V): 39,700 +/- 3,600 ppm
- No other metals detected in consumer goods mode
Appropriate course of Action for the owners of the company
A letter to Max, the owner of Cupkin
Dear Max, Hello.
Below is a slightly edited version of the letter I sent to Bindle Bottle recently (you can read that here.) You are not alone in dealing with this problem with your Cupkin children’s cups BUT you have the opportunity to take the high road (per your publicly stated philosophy), to learn from your mistakes and do right by your customers.
As I write this update to this article (published shortly before midnight on 1/8/2023) it is now after midnight here – technically 1/9/2023 (in Portland, Oregon) but I wanted to make sure to include this quick note in with this article tonight as I expect you will be inundated with emails and texts from concerned customers by the morning (probably before I even wake up.)
I think it is important for you to understand who we are and what we do. I am not a “blogger” – while this website does have a “blog”, first and foremost my company (Lead Safe Mama, LLC) is a small business with a focus on environmental activism for childhood Lead poisoning prevention and consumer goods safety. I have won two awards from the Federal government for my community collaborative focused advocacy work (with the Lead Safe Mama community which numbered nearly 1.8 million people around the world in 2022 alone). In 2022 our work was responsible for three Consumer Product Safety Commission recalls (two children’s drinking vessels and one toy.) I share this because it is important that you take this issue (and our findings) seriously.
Separately, your customers also probably have a significant overlap with Lead Safe Mama readership (we get asked about your products all the time by our readers, which is why we had the opportunity to test them.) Your customers want to see you do the right thing. The right thing does not include (as many companies do) trying to diminish the science we use in our work or trying to diminish the import of our findings. The right thing does not include calling lawyers and asking them to send a threatening letter to us demanding that we take our test results of your product down from this website (many companies have done that over the years and it always backfires.)
Doing the right thing includes the following steps:
- Read the full article I posted earlier tonight about the concern (above).
- Watch my documentary feature film (92 minutes). It’s a crash course on Lead poisoning and has information vital to help you get up to speed about the potential for human impacts caused by your Lead contaminated (sold as “Lead-free”) children’s products. Here’s the link.
- Immediately stop sales of all of your children’s cup products (remove all children’s cup products from your Amazon store and your website and anywhere else you sell them – either directly or through other vendors.)
- Remove any public images or statements that imply these products are Lead-free and/or safe for use by children (doing that immediately will limit your liability longer term.)
- Issue a public statement about the finding of high levels of Lead in the sealing dot on the bottom of your children’s cup products. Please DO NOT make this statement dismissive by stating it is a “small amount” of Lead. Given the level of toxicity that is imparted by even a microscopic amount of Lead, the amount of Lead in your children’s cups (more than 500,000 ppm!) is by NO MEANS a small amount of Lead.
- Talk to a lawyer about the potential for suing your supplier / manufacturer overseas as it seems clear you may not be aware that you were selling Lead-contaminated children’s cups.
- Do batch testing immediately to determine if you ever had Lead free cups and at what point (with which batch) the use of high levels of Lead in the sealing dots started.
- Talk to your lawyer about language for issuing a public voluntary recall statement (this should be prominently displayed on the home page of your website along with a place where customers can request a refund, no questions asked.)
- Find a new supplier to make your children’s cups (and ideally all of your cups) with a Lead free sealing dot. (Talk to Hydroflask (AGAIN), they managed to do it after I called them out on the same issue back in 2011/2012).
- Please do read all of the linked additional articles and posts in my article above as they are all relevant.
- Let me know if you have any questions. I will be as helpful as I can. I do not bite. I am friendly. This is a VERY SERIOUS ISSUE however.
- I will be posting copies of the violation reports I am filing for your products here as soon as they have been filed and I will also email those links to you when they are up on the website.
- Feel free to come down to Portland (it’s a quick drive from Seattle) and bring cup examples from all batch years (you can hire me for an hour or day or whatever you like) – we can quickly figure out when the issue started if you have examples from all batches to test. I am home in Oregon through January 17th and then back again after January 29th (you really could drive down tomorrow with a car full of examples from different years and I will make time for you.) My cell is 415-609-3182 if you want to text me to set up a time to chat.
You can get to the other side of this but it is going to be uncomfortable and you need to (first and foremost) do right by your customers. Sorry to be brief but I have a 10:00 a.m. dentist appointment for my kiddo and I have to get some sleep.
Owner – Lead Safe Mama, LLC
Multiple-Federal Award Winning Environmental Activist
Mother of Acutely Lead Poisoned Children
CPSC Violation Notice will be published here as soon as it is filed.
Below are some additional relevant screenshots from the Cupkin website & Amazon listing.
For those new to this website
Tamara Rubin is a Federal-award-winning independent advocate for consumer goods safety, and a documentary filmmaker. She is also a mother of Lead-poisoned children. Tamara’s sons were acutely Lead-poisoned in August of 2005. 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. This year , her work was also responsible for three CPSC product recalls — the Jumping Jumperoo recall (June, 2022); the Lead painted NUK baby bottle recall (July, 2022); and the Leaded Green Sprouts Insulated Stainless Steel Baby Bottles (November, 2022) — and she was recently featured in an NPR story about Lead in consumer goods (August, 2022); The Guardian (December, 2022); and an upcoming article in Consumer Reports (December, 2022). Tamara uses XRF testing (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. All test results reported on this website are science-based, accurate, and replicable. Items are tested multiple times, to confirm the test results for each component tested and reported on. Please click through to this link to learn more about the testing methodology used for the test results discussed and reported on this website.