Thrawn Rickle 37

Lead Crystal

© 1993 Williscroft

One of the finer things in life is a glass of great wine drunk from a sparkling crystal goblet—or is it?

Joseph H. Graziano is a toxicologist at Columbia University’s College of physicians and Surgeons. As reported in Science News, he and internist Conrad Blum recently studied the effects of storing alcoholic beverages in and consuming them out of leaded crystal containers.

“Lead crystal” typically contains twenty-four to thirty-six percent lead oxide which gives this glass its characteristic brilliance and clarity. It has long been revered for its beauty. Lead crystal decanters store fine liquor in homes around the world. Wines and other beverages are frequently consumed from lead crystal glasses. There are even lead crystal baby bottles from which future wall street tycoons drink their juices and formula.

Graziano’s initial investigation was prompted by a question posed by Blum concerning the possibility of lead migrating from the crystal into the beverage. Although Graziano thought it unlikely, Blum’s home tests were sufficiently convincing that these two researchers set up a full-blown laboratory test of this possibility. Their results, which were published in Lancet and reported in Science News, are nothing short of startling.

Blum supplied three lead crystal decanters from home. They cleansed each thoroughly and filled them with port wine. After two days they began a systematic series of measurements of the lead content of the liquid. The first measurement indicated a lead content of 89 micrograms per litre (µg/l). By comparison, the EPA lead standard for drinking water is 50 µg/l, and the EPA is seriously considering lowering this to 20 µg/l.

Over the next four months the lead content in these three containers rose to a high ranging between 2,160 and 5,330 µg/l. They found that white wine doubles its lead content within an hour of being poured into a lead crystal glass and triples in four hours.

Graziano and Blum checked fourteen lead crystal containers. All showed similar properties. Especially noteworthy were two brandies that had been stored in lead crystal for over five years. Lead levels in these were as high as 21,500 µg/l. A single glass of beverage containing such concentrations would expose the drinker to approximately the same level of lead contamination as he or she would ordinarily become exposed to in an entire month from all other sources—water, air, food, dust, etc.

When these investigators measured the lead level of apple juice kept in a lead crystal baby bottle for only four hours, they found the level had increased from 1 µg/l to 166 µg/l. Warm formula reached the same level in only fifteen minutes, and after four hours reached 280 µg/l. These results have convinced them that lead crystal baby bottles should be banned.

Predictably, the Lead Industries Association issued a statement claiming that the alcohol study suggests “there is negligible risk” from beverages placed in lead crystal barware “for short periods of time, such as during a meal.”

No rational human being would knowingly drink a liquid laced with cyanide. A new set of facts has come to light—we now have genuine information that we did not have earlier: drinking anything that has been stored in lead crystal containers for longer than a few minutes subjects the drinker to a serious risk of lead poisoning.

The Lead Industries Association statement is thoughtless and stupid at best, and criminally negligent at worst.

Submariner, diver, scientist, author & adventurer. 22 mos underwater, a yr in the equatorial Pacific, 3 yrs in the Arctic, and a yr at the South Pole. BS Marine Physics & Meteorology, PhD in Engineering. Authors non-fiction, Cold War thrillers, and hard science fiction. Lives in Centennial, CO.

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