LEAD Action News

LEAD Action News vol 4 no 3 Winter ISSN 1324-6011
Incorporating Lead Aware Times ( ISSN 1440-4966) and Lead Advisory Service News ( ISSN 1440-0561)
The journal of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.

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Drinking Ourselves to Death

There are many examples given of the ways in which people have been lead poisoned by their favourite tipple in an excellent article by Dr Chris Smith published in the Medical Observer (March 1996, p 66), which states in part:

In 18th century England, where colic at cider-time was endemic in Devonshire but not in other nearby counties, Sir George Baker, physician to King George III, found he could extract lead from the local cider. The source was traced to the lead keys that bonded together the millstones used to press apples in Devonshire.

Dr James Hardy of Barnstable found that the glazed earthen jugs widely used by the lower classes, especially in Devonshire, contained considerable amounts of lead. One quart of this glaze contained one whole ounce of lead.

Dr Rice Charlton of Bath described six patients "who became paralytic after drinking cyder brought to them at harvest work, in a new earthen pitcher, the inside of which was glazed."

In 1788, John Hunter in his Observations on the Diseases of the Army in Jamaica described West Indian dry gripes (colic without diarrhoea), which afflicted drinkers of rum distilled in lead vats.

Even now, some glazes still contain soluble lead compounds. In 1970, a Canadian child died from drinking apple juice kept in an earthenware jug.

We can add the following cases to Dr Smith's list:

According to the Medical Journal of Australia, in 1995 an Australian man and his wife were lead poisoned by drinking non-alcoholic carbonated beverages from a pewter mug purchased 10 years previously in Malaysia. [Ref: Scarlett et al, MJA Vol 163 4/18 December 1995 p 589-590]

In 1996, an English drinker was awarded $100,000 damages from her local pub, for lead poisoning from the glaze in an earthenware jug. [Sunday Telegraph, Feb 4, 1996 p 41].

And in February 1996 in NSW, a woman who worked in a gift shop selling ceramics sent The LEAD Group a sample of pottery imported from Mexico for lead testing, after noticing that it gave beverages a metallic taste and smell. The results showed a level of 33,000 ppm, which is 66,000 times the accepted Californian level for drinking mugs. The LEAD Group does not know whether the container load of Mexican ceramic-ware was withdrawn from sale as advised, or not.

The LEAD Group then made a general inquiry about whether testing of ceramic-ware (both imported and Australian-made) was sufficient to protect consumers. The Product Safety and Standards Branch of the Department of Fair Trading (NSW Consumer Protection Agency) replied in a letter dated 1st April 1996 that "the matter was raised with the Australian Customs Service [ACS] who advised that it does have jurisdiction to investigate this issue and can take action against the importer and the retailer if the lead content of the tableware exceeds the standard in its import regulations. However, ACS is interested in examining the test report...".

Due to confidentiality agreements The LEAD Group was unable to provide the ACS with a copy of the test report.

The Department of Fair Trading (DoFT) went on to say: "This Department is unaware of any instance of a local manufacturer producing a similar product with high lead content. However...there has recently been an Australian / New Zealand Standard developed for Ceramic Table-ware, AS/NZS 4371:1996."

A Senior Inspector for Customs stated in a letter to DoFT dated 22 March 1996: "The Australian Customs Service (Customs) under Commonwealth legislation prohibits the importation of ceramic tableware if it releases lead or cadmium above the level permitted by defined specifications.

"When a consignment of ceramic tableware is imported to Australia Customs will accept an overseas Certificate of Analysis which has been issued by a NATA accredited laboratory. Each shipment of tableware must be accompanied by a Certificate. Should Customs determine that the goods being sold constitute a prohibited importation they can be seized."

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Last Updated 26 November 2012
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