9

This article describes why crystal glasses (made from lead crystal) contain lead.

Do the safety rules at the bottom of the article seem reasonable? Or is this excessive?

If crystal glassware containers are dangerous, then why are they still on sale?

10

It doesn't appear that a lot of research has been done on this topic, but the research that has been conducted seems fairly clear. The Wikipedia article on lead-glass safety contains a brief description of the safety aspects.

Going just a little deeper, I found two abstracts. One deals with short term use, the other with long term storage.

As the article you linked mentions, long term storage of acidic or alcoholic beverages is not recommended. This Lancet abstract describes an experiment which found significant increases in lead concentration long term storage. Concentrations rose from 79 ug/L initially to 3817 ug/L after four months, and up to 21,530 ug/L after "a long time." For comparison, a typical diet will contain around 70-80 ug of lead a day.

However, short term use of lead-glass containers showed relatively small amounts of lead-leaching. According to this PubMed abstract, under "conditions that are likely to occur to a consumer" the worst case lead leaching amounted to only 14.5 ug in a 350 mL (12 fl. oz.) soda or about 41 ug/L. The researchers concluded that the lead increase would not significantly affect health.

On the other hand, the US CDC "Action Level" for lead in water is 15 parts per billion, or about 15 ug/L. While the soda case (worst case) from the PubMed study exceeds this level, one presumes that such consuption is not a regular occurrence. Regular use of a lead-glass beverage container would probably be contraindicated.

2

Lead crystal products have been used to hold liquids for thousands of years. The "safety" rules listed at the bottom make some sense, as they would prevent the liquid from sitting inside the lead container for prolonged periods, thus minimising any lead leeching into the liquid from the crystal. Whether they are necessary to prevent dangerous exposure is another question, but I doubt it (unless you're going to have that brandy sitting in that decanter for several years before serving it, maybe, in which case I'd indeed replace it with coloured water for show and only put in the actual brandy shortly before the guests arrive you're going to serve).

Do keep in mind that the "safe exposure levels" published by agencies like the FDA are orders of magnitude lower (and deliberately so) than actual dangerous levels. So even if they have a limit of 15 micrograms per liter, you would not see ill effects in all but the most vulnerable until you reach probably several milligrams per liter, a dose at which point the drink would have a distinct metalic taste and you'd throw it away because it tasted so bad after just a sip, a dose also that's extremely unlikely to ever be reached from a lead crystal container in normal use.

  • 2
    People have been dying for thousands of years. The Romans used lead for their water pipes; in the early 20th century, they used lead in toys and in house paints: that doesn't mean that that's safe, or good for you. – ChrisW May 20 '11 at 3:08
  • no, but it doesn't mean that any level at all is dangerous either. As with everything, the dose makes the poison. – jwenting May 23 '11 at 6:54

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .