Stanley cups, the popular water bottles cherished by many on social media, have come under scrutiny over claims that the products contain lead, which can be harmful to human health.
The trendy tumblers have been gaining traction online through social media in recent years. But recently, some social media users shared videos where they conducted at-home lead tests on these tumblers. In the videos, some of the testers reported positive results for lead.
There are traces of lead within the product, according to the U.S.-based company. However, it added that lead is not present on the surface of the bottle.
While Stanley has acknowledged there is lead in its products, the company assured they are still safe and meets U.S. regulatory requirements.
“At Stanley, one of the key features of our products is our vacuum insulation technology, which provides consumers with drinkware that keeps beverages at the ideal temperature,” the company stated on its website.
“Our manufacturing process currently employs the use of an industry standard pellet to seal the vacuum insulation at the base of our products; the sealing material includes some lead. Once sealed, this area is covered with a durable stainless steel layer, making it inaccessible to consumers.”
The company added: “Rest assured that no lead is present on the surface of any Stanley product that comes into contact with the consumer nor the contents of the product.”
Global News reached out to Stanley for a statement but did not hear back at the time of publication.
Stanley cups have taken over Instagram and TikTok as a very popular stainless steel water bottle. The 40-ounce cup features a lid with a removable straw, a handle and an insulated body that keeps liquids hot or cold for hours. It also comes in a variety of colours like jade, polar swirl, red quartz and soft rain mint.
Stanley also makes other products using this technology such as mugs and pints.
Should you chuck your Stanley?
On the Stanley website, the company said in the rare case that the base cap of the product comes off and exposes the seal, then you are eligible for the company’s lifetime warranty.
If your Stanley cup is showing signs of wear or damage, Kevin Wilkinson, a professor of environmental chemistry at the University of Montreal, cautions that there could potentially be traces of lead in the water it contains.
“What we’re worried about is the bio accessibility, so what’s coming off of the surface? If it’s covered with either another metal or the lead is pacified somehow then it shouldn’t be a problem,” he explained.
“So new containers, it’s probably the case that it would be very difficult to get significant lead levels coming out.”
But the danger lies in the older containers where the surface has been damaged or worn down, he said.
“Then you can get some lead coming into the drinks in the container,” Wilkinson said. “And if that is the case, acidic drinks are much worse. So anything — orange juice, lemonade, tomato juice — anything that’s slightly acidic will pull the lead out much faster.”
The dangers of lead
Lead is one of the “most toxic metals that we know of” with one of the highest risks to humans, Wilkinson warned.
Children are particularly vulnerable to the health impacts of lead because their bodies absorb the toxin more than adults, according to the Canadian Paediatric Society. This is because children absorb a higher percentage of lead than adults do, and their developing organs and systems are more susceptible to the toxic effects of lead. Lead builds up in the body, so that on-going exposure to even low levels of lead may result in harmful effects on the growth and intellectual development of children.
Canadians are exposed to low levels of lead in food, drinking water, air, dust, soil and products, Health Canada says. Although blood lead levels (BLLs) have declined by over 70 per cent in Canada since 1978 to 1979, lead is still widely detected in the Canadian population.
Exposure to lead can lead to a range of serious health effects, including anemia, vomiting and diarrhea. It can also cause neurodevelopmental, neurodegenerative, cardiovascular, renal and reproductive effects, Health Canada warned.
On its website, Health Canada says “there is no established threshold blood lead level below which harmful health effects do not occur.” The World Health Organization (WHO) has also stated “there is no known safe blood level concentration” of lead.
However, the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality set a maximum acceptable concentration of 0.005 mg/L (five parts per billion) for total lead in drinking water, measured at the tap.
In the guidelines, Health Canada said it has conducted an assessment of the current science on lead and determined that even low levels of lead exposure are associated with effects on the developing brain in children.
Global News reached out to Health Canada for a comment about the lead found in Stanley cups and was referred an information page about it on the department’s website.
Why use lead in products?
Although lead is not on the surface of a Stanley cup, the company stated it’s part of the manufacturing process of the sealing material.
Wilkinson could not speak to why the manufacturers of Stanley use the material in products, but suspects cost could be an issue for some companies.
“Lead has a lot of really interesting properties for chemists,” he said. “And it is it’s a fairly soft metal as well. It can be used for a number of processes and it doesn’t cost a lot. So generally speaking, that’s why you find it in a lot of different places.“
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lead is used to soften plastic and to make it more flexible so that it can go back to its original shape. It may also be used in plastic toys to stabilize molecules from heat.
And it’s not just Stanley that uses lead in its products.
Other brands have been subject to recalls over their use of the material, according to past Health Canada recalls.
For example, in September, Health Canada issued a recall for double-walled stainless steel children’s cups under the Cupkin brand, warning about the presence of excess amounts of lead at the bottom seal.
Wilkinson also believes more companies probably use lead for the same reason.
“It does seem like it could be very common,” he said. “I suspect it’s not an isolated process that’s being used here, this is pretty common for this kind of device.
— with files from Global News’ Kathryn Mannie
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