New Year’s Resolution: Don’t drink out of lead crystal

by Franke James

Are you making any New Year’s resolutions for 2008? New Year’s resolutions are often hard to keep but my first one is easy and green: Stop drinking wine out of leaded crystal stemware. This won’t be too hard, as many of our crystal wine glasses have broken over the years. When I looked at replacing them, the fact that they contained lead made me stop and think. Is there a health risk? Is there a better alternative?

Lead Hangover

News stories in 2007 about lead paint in children’s toys have brought the problem into the popular consciousness. But lead is a nasty environmental hangover that’s been around for generations. It’s worrisome because it can cause serious health damage including brain damage and learning disabilities. For decades, starting as early as 1900 and continuing into the 1950’s, lead was used in plumbing, gasoline and paint. Lead contamination can come from many sources including common household dust. A recent news article on lead contamination from house dust, reports that it’s a potential health hazard that scientists are only beginning to understand. (My New Year’s Resolution #2: Dust and vacuum frequently may be harder to keep but it will make our home more healthy and that is very green.)

photo of feather duster licensed from istock, text by franke james

If you’re not familiar with the many adverse health effects of lead check outTheFirst6Years. It focuses on the dangers to children from lead exposure in the home.. It reports that, “Lead poisoning causes subtle, yet serious, effects in children and exerts an enormous economic burden on society, costing billions of dollars in reduced IQ, lost earning potential, special education requirements, and criminal justice measures (Davies, 2005; Korfmacher, 2003; Muir & Zegarac, 2001).

Does leaded crystal pose a health risk?

Experts seem to agree that while the danger is small if the wine is consumed over a short space of time (such as a dinner) trace amounts of lead do leach into beverages, especially white wine, and that wine should never be stored in leaded crystal.

“It is probably safe to have wine with dinner from your glasses, though varying trace amounts of lead do leach out of lead crystal, as a Columbia University study found in 1991. Those researchers estimated that the lead released in the course of a meal posed a negligible risk... However, there is a more than negligible danger when liquor, wine or other acidic liquids like fruit juice are stored in a lead crystal carafe or decanter. The lead released builds up over time and can reach 100 times the allowable level after weeks or months, Canadian researchers said. Therefore experts almost universally warn against using lead crystal for storing wine, liquor or any acidic beverage… Experts suggest that pregnant women and children take extra care to avoid possible lead exposure, like avoiding daily use of lead crystal and ceramic mugs, especially for hot beverages.” The New York Times

An alternative to leaded crystal?

We won’t be throwing out all of our lead crystal glasses in 2008 — but we won’t be adding any either. The alternative for us — although I still have questions — are breathable wine glasses which look beautiful, are an affordable luxury, and according to some oenophiles improve the taste of the wine. Currently this new breathable technology is proprietary and is only produced by one company, Eisch in Germany: “Breathable Glasses are made from a special raw material mixture in lead-free crystal glass quality. After the actual manufacturing process, the glasses undergo an oxygenising treatment which gives the Breathable Glasses its unique properties. A wine poured into a Breathable Glass for just 2 to 4 minutes will show signs of aeration equivalent to the same wine that has been decanted and aerated for 1 to 2 hours. This fully natural process takes place within the wine itself, just in minutes. The original character and structure of the wine are preserved, yet the wine’s aroma and palate impression become more open and generous, just as they would with an hour or more of aeration.”

I’m pleased to discover an innovative product which allows us to discontinue use of traditional leaded crystal but I would like to know more about the ‘fully natural process’ they refer to. Ariel Fenster, a university reviewer puts forward his theory, “I would very much like to discover the technique used to produce these glasses. It is of course a secret but the company mentions …’a proprietary oxygenation treatment”. It is possibly the same type of phenomenon found in sport clothes made out of ‘Gore-Tex’ which also ‘breathe’.”

Fenster’s natural curiosity segues nicely into my New Year’s Resolution #3: Look for innovative green products and ask questions. Don’t take manufacturer’s claims at face value! Manufacturers should be disclosing their processes and materials — so we can fairly judge whether the product is truly green and truly healthy. We don’t want to get bitten by another ‘lead bug’ twenty years down the road. But it’s up to us to get full disclosure to protect ourselves.

What are your New Year’s Resolutions? Share them with me by leaving a comment.

Cheers to a happy, healthy and greener 2008!

My Three New Year’s Resolutions 2007 Franke James, MFA;

1 Response: One Comment

  • sherrie says:

    Today I made the decision to stop drinking from our old lead crystal mugs (which was a free gift with purchase of Paul Sebastian mens cologne, about 20 years ago). I’ve questioned this lead glass concern before, as we’ve used these glasses daily for many years. This morning the smell and taste of lead was apparent while I was drinking an ‘Airborne’ vitamin C & herb/mineral health tab that fizzes up in water. It’s goodbye to the lead crystal mugs, as one of my new years resolutions too!

    Another resolution is to recycle and cut down on pollution even more than before, and encourage others to as well.

    Finally, to let go of those “things” around that we’ve been saving for “someday”… and giving to others who may want or actually have a need for, today.

    Happy endings completing year 2007 & A Healthy year of new beginnings in 2008!