Since 1980, the United States Food and Drug Administration has limited the amount and usage of lead in products, such as ceramic-wear to protect consumers from lead poisoning. Lead crystal, also known as lead glass, marked a new era in the production of glass. It is still popular today in the production of glass products, such as glass, decanters, stained glass windows and even chandeliers.
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Lead crystal originated in England when George Ravenscroft successfully created the material by adding lead oxide to glass. Prior to this, glass manufacturers used mostly silica or sand to create glass. They applied heat to the sand to cause it to melt and create glass; however, because sand could sometimes contain minerals such as iron, the resulting glass was sometimes imperfect. In 1756, a merchant by the name of Akim V. Maltsov created the first lead glass factory in Russia.
The element of lead has been used for many purposes, besides glass. However, the discovery of lead poisoning has led to an overall decrease in the usage of lead in a variety of products. Lead poisoning is especially dangerous to children. In fact, according to Ellen K. Silbergeld of the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, University of Maryland at Baltimore, lead poisoning is the "most significant and prevalent disease of environmental origin among US children."
Lead poisoning can cause seriously health concerns including headaches, stomach pain, decrease bone and muscle growth, hearing and speech problems, anaemia and even behavioural problems. Lead poisoning occurs after a poison has had, usually prolonged, interaction with lead through inhalation, swallowing or absorption through the skin.
Lead poisoning becomes a concern with lead crystal glasses and containers when a material remains inside the container long enough for the lead to leech into the material itself. In the case of lead crystal glasses, the material is usually a drink and frequently of alcoholic nature. For example, a party host may use lead crystal glasses for wine or a consumer may store brandy on a lead crystal decanter.
Some types of liquids are more susceptible to lead leeching. These include cognac and port wine, the latter of which can contain levels of lead between 2,000 and 5,000 micrograms per litre. This is well above the safe limited of 50 micrograms per litre, as established by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
Occasional use of lead glass products such as wine glasses will not result in lead poisoning. However, it is advisable to avoid using lead crystal decanters for the storage or liquid such as alcohol for the long term. Rather, a host can transfer wine or other beverages from the original bottle, into a decanter, before an event. The host can transfer any remaining liquids back into the original container or bottle after the event to minimise lead exposure.
The Haz-Map website also advises consumers not to drink from lead crystal glasses on a daily basis. It goes on to explain that this is especially true for pregnant women. Lastly, the website advises against feeding an infant or child from a lead glass bottle or cup.
Currently, not all glasses contain lead. It is more common for expensive glasses or containers (decanters), to contain lead. A piece of lead crystal glass will only contain up to 33 per cent lead and this is not common as it can be difficult for glass makers to work with glass that contains that much lead. The exception to this trend is the country of Ireland whose glass makers are known for manufacturing glass creations with a 33 per cent lead concentration. Because liquids such as wine do not typically remain in lead crystal stemware for a lengthy period of time, the possibility of receiving lead poisoning is low, especially if the usage of lead crystal glasses is infrequent.
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