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Study of controlled migration of cadmium and lead into foods from plastic utensils for children


Lead (Pb) is a highly neurotoxic chemical element known for reducing intelligence quotient (IQ) and promoting antisocial behavior in children and adolescents, while cadmium (Cd) is a carcinogenic bioaccumulative element. Both these metals are included in the priority pollutant list of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and in the WHO List of Chemicals of Major Public Health Concern, where contaminated foods and beverages are the most common pathways of exposure. The objective of this study was to determine total Cd and Pb levels in colored plastic utensils (cups, mugs, bowls, feeding bottles, and plates) for use by children and to measure the specific migration of these elements into beverages and foods. Total contaminant levels were determined using a handheld X-ray fluorescence analyzer. Specific migration tests were conducted using the simulant solutions acetic acid 3% (m/v) and water. Migration levels were determined by ICP-MS. Specific migration tests for Pb were also performed on commercially available samples (cola soft drink, orange juice, vinegar, and milk), with levels determined by graphite-furnace atomic absorption spectrometry (GF-AAS). A total of 674 utensils were analyzed in loco at major commercial centers in Greater São Paulo, of which 87 were purchased for containing Cd and Pb concentrations above permitted limits. Mean concentrations of the metals detected in the purchased utensils were 1110 ppm for Pb and 338 ppm for Cd. For specific migration assays, Pb levels were 187, 13, and 380 times above the permitted limit (0.01 -1) for acetic acid, water, and orange juice, respectively. Cd levels were 50 and 2.4 times above the maximum permitted limit (0.005 -1) for acetic acid and water, respectively. The districts where the utensils were purchased were grouped according to their social vulnerability index and compared using ANOVA. Pb levels were different between low and medium/high social vulnerability groups (p = 0.006). The findings corroborate the initial hypothesis that these utensils constitute a major source of exposure to PTEs such as Cd and Pb, pointing to the need for stricter regulation and inspection by the Brazilian regulatory agencies.

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All data generated or analyzed during this study are included in this published article (and its supplementary information files).


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The authors extend their thanks to the volunteer storeowners who made their outlets available for analysis of utensils in loco using XRF.


This research project was financially supported by the Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo (FAPESP. grant #2016/11087–8, #2016/10060–9. INL and ECP both received study scholarships (grants FAPESP #2017/14392–9 and #2014/20945–2).

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Authors and Affiliations



Elizeu Chiodi Pereira and Isabelle Nogueira Leroux: conceptualization, fieldwork, chemical analyses, manuscript’s writing, and final editing.

Maciel Santos Luz and Bruno Batista Lemos: Chemical analyses supervision, funding, manuscript’s final editing.

Kelly Polido Kaneshiro Olympio: study’s conceptualization and design, supervision, funding, manuscript’s writing, and final editing.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kelly Polido Kaneshiro Olympio.

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Not applicable, as this study did not include people or animals.

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Not applicable.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

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Responsible Editor: Lotfi Aleya

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Pereira, E.C., Leroux, I.N., Luz, M.S. et al. Study of controlled migration of cadmium and lead into foods from plastic utensils for children. Environ Sci Pollut Res 29, 52833–52843 (2022).

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  • Lead
  • Cadmium
  • Plastic utensils
  • Specific migration
  • Children
  • Potentially toxic metals