Tests show cadmium risk in kids cups


When McDonald’s recalled 12 million “ Shrek” beverage glasses in June because the designs contained cadmium, consumers were told the glasses weren’t toxic but were being recalled out of an abundance of caution.

Regulators wouldn’t disclose the amount of cadmium in the glasses.

But recently released regulatory records show that the recall was spurred after government scientists concluded a 6-year-old could be exposed to hazardous levels of the carcinogen after touching one of the glasses eight times in a day.

Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald’s and the company that manufactured the glasses, ARC International of Millville, N.J., insist the products are safe.


The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said it stands behind the recall but indicated that scientists might use different standards for future recalls. The regulatory agency is expected to announce new cadmium standards this month to address concerns about the heavy metal in consumer products.

In addition to the Shrek glasses, children’s jewelry has been recalled for cadmium, but at much higher levels.

Toys are the only children’s product that have a standard for cadmium — 75 soluble parts per million in paint and coatings. But many products, including the Shrek glasses and jewelry, are not considered toys.

Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the regulatory agency, wouldn’t say if the new standard would be above or below the cadmium levels found in the McDonald’s glasses. The glasses are still considered non-toxic because a child wouldn’t get sick simply from touching one. The health concerns are centered on long-term exposure to cadmium.

Cadmium is a carcinogen that also damages kidneys, lungs and bones. The soft metal is used in paint and batteries. It’s also in fertilizers, which means it ends up in soil and whatever grows in that soil. Humans take in most cadmium through their diet, especially leafy greens. Cadmium is also in cigarettes. There is no established amount of cadmium that is considered safe or unsafe for kids, but health officials and scientists worry about cadmium building up in the body over time.

“Making sure that children don’t take in excess cadmium beyond the diet is a wise thing to do,” said Jeffrey Weidenhamer, a professor of chemistry at Ashland University in Ohio.


Weidenhamer had tested some of the pigment in the Shrek glasses before the recall and found cadmium.

In evaluating the safety of the Shrek glasses, agency scientists said they reviewed scientific research and considered chronic hazard guidelines for the element.

Documents show that the agency chose an amount of 0.03 micrograms per kilogram of body weight for an “acceptable daily intake level.”

That is about one-third the amount that is considered safe by the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry. The amount is not specific to children, however.

Government scientists performed a “wipe” test on the Shrek glasses that was meant to simulate a child touching a glass. They moistened a paper or cloth wipe and rubbed the decal 10 times to see how much cadmium rubbed off. This was done three times on each glass and cadmium on the wipes was added up. The glass with the highest total of cadmium had about 15.83 micrograms.

Scientists made calculations about how much cadmium children might swallow if they licked their hands or touched food after handling the glass, which led to the estimate that eight strokes of the glass could cause a child to take in a hazardous amount of cadmium.


The Society of Glass and Ceramic Decorated Products, a trade association representing manufacturers and decorators, did its own testing that found none of the glasses leached detectable levels of cadmium. The glasses were washed before the test, however, and the decal was not wiped as many times as in the government’s tests.

Fred Dohn, CEO of Americas for Arc International, which manufactured the glasses, said the enamels that are used for the decorative part of the glass are essentially melted into the glass. Cadmium is a must to make certain colors.

Dohn said his company complied with standards to keep the cadmium away from the lip of the cup.

“The worst thing for us is to have an unclear standard,” he said.

Wailin Wong contributed to this report.