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Leaching of Lead into Whiskey from Ceramic Decanter Glazing


Guest wripvanwrinkle
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Just a little digging on the net turned up these randomly quoted nuggets - nasty stuff for sure. The question is how much damage drinking a decanter or two of contaminated Bourbon will do. Apparently there isn't a clear cut answer.

Behavioral Symptoms of Lead Poisoning In Adults

- Irritability

- Unexplained changes in mood or personality

- Changes in sleep patterns

- Inability to concentrate

- Memory loss

Symptoms

Initially, lead poisoning can be hard to detect — even people who seem healthy can have high blood levels of lead. Signs and symptoms usually don't appear until dangerous amounts have accumulated.

Signs and symptoms in adults may include:

High blood pressure

Declines in mental functioning

Pain, numbness or tingling of the extremities

Muscular weakness

Headache

Abdominal pain

Memory loss

Mood disorders

Reduced sperm count, abnormal sperm

Miscarriage or premature birth in pregnant women

Other sources of lead exposure

Lead can also sometimes be found in:

Soil. Lead particles that settle on the soil from leaded gasoline or paint can last for years. Lead-contaminated soil is still a major problem around highways and in some urban settings.

Household dust. Household dust can contain lead from lead paint chips or from contaminated soil brought in from outside.

Pottery. Glazes found on some ceramics, china and porcelain can contain lead that may leach into food.

Toys. Lead is sometimes found in toys and other products produced abroad.

Traditional cosmetics. Kohl is a traditional cosmetic, often used as eyeliner. Testing of various samples of kohl has revealed high levels of lead.

Exposure to even low levels of lead can cause damage over time, especially in children. The greatest risk is to brain development, where irreversible damage may occur. Higher levels can damage the kidneys and nervous system in both children and adults. Very high lead levels may cause seizures, unconsciousness and possibly death.

Don't store wine, spirits, or vinegar-based salad dressings in lead crystal decanters for long periods of time, because lead can get into the liquid.

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Just a little digging on the net turned up these randomly quoted nuggets - nasty stuff for sure. The question is how much damage drinking a decanter or two of contaminated Bourbon will do. Apparently there isn't a clear cut answer.

Behavioral Symptoms of Lead Poisoning In Adults

- Irritability

- Unexplained changes in mood or personality

- Changes in sleep patterns

- Inability to concentrate

- Memory loss

So... crotchety people might be that way because of lead poisoning? Hmmm. :cool:

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********UPDATE FROM WRIPVANWRIKLE*********

****************************************

Hi All,

A lot of good questions have been asked. I have been itching to respond. Unfortunately, I changed my SB.com email address a couple of weeks ago. Although my account has been re-activated, it appears that I don’t privileges to access/post within most of the forums… If possible, would a Mod please help? Many thanks to BradleyC for posting this comment for me.

So, what is the impact from drinking lead contaminated whiskey? As the posts above indicate, lead stays within the body for an extended period of time. Half of the lead found in the blood supply will leave the body within 25 days [1]. In another 25 days another half will leave. In this manner, the lead will accumulate. If at any given time there is “too much†lead within the blood, then there are harmful effects.

The question then is “How much is too much?†I’ll warn you now that this is about to get a little geeky.

Apparently, “too much†is 10 micrograms of lead within 1 deciliter of blood (10 ug/dL). [2/3]

Knowing this, we need to figure out how much lead is in any given dram. To figure that out we need to understand how much lead is resident within a 14,700 ppb solution of alcohol.

Apparently, ppb can be estimated in terms of weight. 1 ppb of contaminate within water is approximately equal to 1 mg/L. I’m going to assume that this conversion for water approximates the conversion for alcohol [5]. Therefore, the conversion for my 14,700 ppb solution of Lead (Pb) to milligrams per liter (mg/L) would look like:

14,700 gm Pb / 10^9 gm H20 * 1000 gm H20 / 1 L H20 = 14.7 mg/L

Fortunately, I don’t drink a liter of Bourbon in one sitting. My drams tend to be 50 milliliters (mL) “tallâ€. Additionally all that lead is diluted throughout my blood supply (a grown adult has 5-6 liters of blood [6].) So, how does a single dram impact my blood supply? The calculation follows:

14.6 mg / L bourbon * 50 mL bourbon / dram * 1 dram / 60 dL blood = 12.2 ug/dL

Uh-oh. The EPA says that 10.0 ug/dL is harmful, while a single dram has raised me to 12.2 ug/dL. Want a second dram?

Fortunately, not all is lost. Sutton points out above that only 10-15% of dietary lead is absorbed in a non-pregnant adult. [7] (If you are drinking lead contaminated whiskey while pregnant, then shame on you.) Taking the 15% absorption rate into account, then each dram adds another 1.83 ug/dL to my blood supply.

Don’t be too relieved though. Remember that lead will stay in the body for 25 days (even then, only half of it will exit). At 1.83 ug/dL per drink, the lead within my blood will reach “harmful†levels in 6 drinks. If I kill a 750 mL decanter over 15 days (1 dram a day) than my lead level would be 27.45 ug/dL. Not a happy thought (almost 3X past the “harmful†level.)

Obviously there are a lot more factors to be considered in order to accurately predict the effects of drinking from a lead-glazed decanter. Also the correlation between lead blood levels and harmful effects should be evaluated. Personally though I am convinced: drinking alcohol that has been sitting for 40 years within a lead glazed decanter is a really bad idea.

Wripvanwrinkle (Eric)

REFERENCES

[1]: http://manbir-online.com/diseases/lead.htm

[2]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_lead_level

[3]: http://water.epa.gov/drink/contaminants/index.cfm

[4]: http://www.smarte.org/smarte/dynamic/resource/sn-units-of-measure.xml.pdf]

[6]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood

[7]: http://www.mass.gov/?pageID=elwdterminal&L=4&L0=Home&L1=Workers+and+Unions&L2=Licensing+and+Certification&L3=Occupational+Lead+Poisoning+Registry&sid=Elwd&b=terminalcontent&f=dos_leaddocs_lead_healthhaz&csid=Elwd

NOTES

[5]: Apparently, since alcohol is less dense than water that the conversion should be about 10% less. I’m going to ignore this difference here.

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Bourbon Boiler

The other key conclusion would be that if you haven't seen any effects of lead at this point, and you aren't consuming any more through whiskey, toys, cosmetics, dust, etc., you aren't likely to develop any.

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  • 6 months later...

Well damn. I'd never thought about this before (and somehow missed this thread). I have 6 Beam decanters from the late 1970s that all likely have lead glazing. I spent probably 40ish for the lot of them. 3 are Beam BiB with whiskey distilled in 1959, bottled in 1975 (16 year old BiB whiskey). I really like them and would hate to just get rid of them.

I'm a physician scientist student so I've got some information from science and medicine. There's a lead exposure study that's been going on in Cincinnati for several decades assessing neural development in children exposed to lead in deteriorating homes in the area. All conclusions have shown that lab is dangerous at every exposure level (including the currently recommended "safe dose". That said most of the effect seems to be on developing nervous system tissue. Accumulation in bones and other areas of mineral deposit (teeth) leads to lifelong lead exposure in much of this patient population. While what I've read suggests that lead exposure is not as detrimental to adults, it's clear that lead is harmful to everyone.

One of the girls in lab is working on a heavy metal project right now in collaboration with the chemistry department. I'm going to check with my PI to see if it would be possible to test the lead content of the whiskey in my decanters. (My personal take on this: I won't be tasting or sharing any decanter whiskey until I have the results. Sorry to those that may have sampled the whiskey at my tasting in January.) :(

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  • 2 weeks later...
Parkersback

I read through this thread when it first was generated, and appreciated it then.

Now I am re-reading it as a friend of mine came across some decanters at a consignment shop. Four out of the five are glass, and so I am wondering: is there any way to know if there's the same hazard with glass decanters from the sixties the way there is with ceramic?

The fifth decanter is an Old Fitz Monticello decanter (presumably ceramic?), and can be found on the bottom right of this page:

http://www.jimbeamclub.com/pictorials/oldfitzgerald/index.html

Is there any way to discern the composition of this one?

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Don't store wine, spirits, or vinegar-based salad dressings in lead crystal decanters for long periods of time, because lead can get into the liquid.

I just started reading through this thread and it is one of the most interesting and informative I have ever witnessed. However, I saw this post about Lead Crystal Decanters. I received a crystal decanter for Christmas. I was unaware that there is lead in crystal.

Sadly, I am about to display my newbie badge and possibly my uninformed, and uneducated badge when I say this...but...is there a danger of lead in pure crystal containers?

My belief was that the danger would be in any (lead) paint used to decorate the bottle:shocked:.

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I just started reading through this thread and it is one of the most interesting and informative I have ever witnessed. However, I saw this post about Lead Crystal Decanters. I received a crystal decanter for Christmas. I was unaware that there is lead in crystal.

Sadly, I am about to display my newbie badge and possibly my uninformed, and uneducated badge when I say this...but...is there a danger of lead in pure crystal containers?

My belief was that the danger would be in any (lead) paint used to decorate the bottle:shocked:.

There are Lead crystal decanters and Crystal decanters. The lead crystal decanters will leak lead into the alcohol if booze is stored in them long term . The Crystal ones will not.

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There are Lead crystal decanters and Crystal decanters. The lead crystal decanters will leak lead into the alcohol if booze is stored in them long term . The Crystal ones will not.

Goodness. Do they still make lead crystal decanters? I almost wonder why they would bother.

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I just drink whatever I find and limit the amount per session when pouring from an old lead decanter. Something's gonna kill me--it might as well be whiskey!:grin:

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I was telling someone about this problem with the lead paint in old decanters and they asked me when they quit using lead paint on them, anyone know?

Never mind found it.

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  • 3 weeks later...

FWIW, I got an 8-pack of 3m lead testers. Easy to use, and highly rated. I used them on a number of ceramic decanters I had, and found:

I.W. Harper barrel decanter (90 proof, 120? month): tested positive for lead

Michter's King Tut and '76 bicentennial 1/2 pt jug: negative for lead

That's all I had lying around. I have a 1.75L Tut that is unopened. I might just open it..

Keep in mind that I tested the outside of these sealed decanters.

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FWIW, I got an 8-pack of 3m lead testers. Easy to use, and highly rated. I used them on a number of ceramic decanters I had, and found:

I.W. Harper barrel decanter (90 proof, 120? month): tested positive for lead

Michter's King Tut and '76 bicentennial 1/2 pt jug: negative for lead

That's all I had lying around. I have a 1.75L Tut that is unopened. I might just open it..

Keep in mind that I tested the outside of these sealed decanters.

Where did you get the lead testers?

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ethangsmith

Michter's tested lead free huh? Maybe I'll try and score a few of these kits and test all my Michter's decanters. That would be quite interesting if they are actually lead free!

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I got the lead testing kit on Amazon. the 8 pack seemed reasonable, not super cheap but lead poisoning is not worth it!

It also comes with a lead coated test strip paper that you can use to verify that the tester is good. That way, no false negatives!

Brain dead simple to use. If it turns red, it has lead.

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  • 3 months later...

Update: I just got a couple of new decanters. The Michters Tut decanters (and a Nefertiti) tested negative for lead. Also, two Beam decanters I tested (100 month, Reno 100th anniversary; JB Choice, greek amphora) both tested negative. Also I have two little Henry McKenna 1/10pt jugs, not sure if they are ceramic but they look so. Both negative.

Anyone else? Have there been any developments on this topic?

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wripvanwrinkle
Update: I just got a couple of new decanters. The Michters Tut decanters (and a Nefertiti) tested negative for lead. Also, two Beam decanters I tested (100 month, Reno 100th anniversary; JB Choice, greek amphora) both tested negative. Also I have two little Henry McKenna 1/10pt jugs, not sure if they are ceramic but they look so. Both negative.

Anyone else? Have there been any developments on this topic?

If it is worth the 15 bucks to you to do so, go to Home Depot and buy the Pro Labs kit. Send them the sample, and then you will know the exact lead level. As they are using a mass spectrometer, their measurements are going to be very accurate. For what it is worth, my first tests were with "home tests" as well. All of those tests showed "negative" for lead even though the mass spectrometer found very high levels within samples from the same bottle.

In brief, all I can say is that my WT decanters from the 1970's show high levels of lead contamination. Once you consume lead, it takes about a month to get rid of half of it. For my sample with its amount of lead within a 50ml drink (1.83 ug/dL), if I had 1 drink from my bottle each week then I would reach the EPA perceived "harmful" level within 6-7 weeks.

Personally, knowing this, I wouldn't regularly drink from these bottles (which stinks because I decanted my "score" into about 12 750ml bottles.) For me, the 1970's WT rummy yumminess doesn't outweigh my peace of mind. Off topic, but when my wife sees a bottle of Wild Turkey she alwas asks "leaded or unleaded?"

Having said that, I still don't completely avoid decanters. Over the last 12 months I've had 2 decanted drinks: an Eagle Rare from Lawrenceburg and some 1950's Old Fitz. The opportunity to try the whiskey outweighed the risk. Then again, I personally would not do so every week. I probably wouldn't even do so once a month.

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wripvanwrinkle

Is it possible for a Mod to fix the spelling error that I made in the thread title? "Decater" versus "Decanter"?

Edited by p_elliott
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Is it possible for a Mod to fix the spelling error that I made in the thread title? "Decater" versus "Decanter"?

You expect me to spell :slappin:

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wripvanwrinkle
Your OCD should be more at ease now. :grin:
You expect me to spell :slappin:

Thanks, Scott! But now that I am thinking about it, I'm pretty sure that someone left the stove on at the Gazebo. Paul would you mind stopping by and checking that out?

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  • 6 months later...

I read through this thread and it was pretty interesting to see that many people still dismiss lead exposure. Another thing that I noticed was someone saying there is a difference between leaded cyrstal glassware and "real" crystal galssware. I'm pretty sure all high quality crystal glassware is leaded as it's the addition of the lead that makes it "crystal" instead of regular glass. I don't know of any glassware that is made from crystals such as quartz. And lead glazes are still commonly found on ceramics that come from China and other underdeveloped countries.

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I read through this thread and it was pretty interesting to see that many people still dismiss lead exposure. Another thing that I noticed was someone saying there is a difference between leaded cyrstal glassware and "real" crystal galssware. I'm pretty sure all high quality crystal glassware is leaded as it's the addition of the lead that makes it "crystal" instead of regular glass. I don't know of any glassware that is made from crystals such as quartz. And lead glazes are still commonly found on ceramics that come from China and other underdeveloped countries.

There is a company called Ravenscroft Crystal that claims they make and sell lead-free crystal. I haven't bought anything of theirs, but some of what they offer looks okay. I've seen a decanter or two of theirs at Bed Bath & Beyond, but not any glasses.

http://www.ravenscroftcrystal.com

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