The team set out to develop a standard method for the detection and quantitative analysis of certain heavy metals in commercially available electronic cigarette liquids. It builds on work previously carried out in 2013 and 2015 where Farsalinos et al concluded: “Based on currently available data, overall exposure to metals from electronic cigarette (EC) use is not expected to be of significant health concern for smokers switching to EC use, but is an unnecessary source of exposure for never-smokers.”
The team explain what a heavy metal is: “Heavy metals are generally considered those naturally occurring elements that have a high atomic weight and a specific density of more than 5 g/cm3. Some of these metals are quite essential, as trace metals, for the regulation of various physiological and biochemical functions in living organisms when they are in very low concentrations, but they become toxic when their amounts exceed certain crucial values. They come into the human organism through breathing air, food and skin absorption.”
In particular, the research focussed on the presence of cadmium (Cd), lead (Pb), nickel (Ni), copper (Cu), arsenic (As) and chromium (Cr). As the team states, few studies have looked at the presence of heavy metals in vape. Those studies that have looked at the subject were being used to spread fear and emanated from certain familiar groups in the States.
The team opted to use Total Reflection X-Ray Fluorescence spectrometry (TXRF) because it offered a balance between cost efficiency, the ability to use small sample sizes, the speed of obtaining results and the ease of sample preparation. They also note that such equipment could be used as part of an on0-site analysis process.
The team identified the presence of all of the heavy metals in the eliquid except cadmium and arsenic. So, does the presence of chromium, nickel, copper and lead mean that you should stop vaping?
The short answers is ‘no’.
While mainstream newspapers or some daft anti-harm reduction commentators might try to fuel fears over such things, the study identified that these elements were only present in concentrations “lower than the limits allowed by regulatory authorities for inhalational medicines”. Plus, the levels identified were considerably lower than those found in cigarette smoke.
The team did note that, “for some of the constituents, nicotine as well as flavourings, the metals measured surpassed the limits but the dilution to take place will diminish the final quantity and potential risk.”
They concluded that TXRF offers affordability, ease of use, speed of obtaining results and low operational costs, and can therefore be an ideal tool for companies seeking to repeat this process on their own products.