Are Leaded Crystal Decanters Dangerous?

Chris asked a very important question in our post about why do people put scotch in decanters. He wanted to know why I suggested lead free crystal decanters instead of leaded crystal decanters, which are often heavier and sparklier (is that a word?). Leaded decanters are beautiful but they have one drawback – lead.

Is lead really dangerous? Only if you store the whisky, or other spirits or liquids, in the decanter for longer periods of time. The lead can leach into the spirit and ingesting it is not safe. According to The Nibble, the leaching of lead is must faster than you’d guess.

Researches stored port wine in lead crystal decanters and detected 89 micrograms (per liter) after 2 days and 2,000 – 5,000 micrograms after four months. White wine doubled its lead content within an hour and tripled within four. Brandy stored in lead crystal had around 20,000 micrograms of lead after five years.

The EPA’s lead standard in drinking water is a mere 50 micrograms per liter.

The Nibble says that it’s safe to use leaded crystal while you eat – to decant into (but not store), to drink out of, and to serve out of. The key is that you cannot store anything in them or you’ll run the risk of exposing yourself to lead.

Personally, I’m happy to skip it. Why expose yourself in the first place?

About Jim

Jim is the founder of Scotch Addict and one of the many fans of whisky in all its forms. Connect with me on Google+.
This entry was posted in Reference. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Are Leaded Crystal Decanters Dangerous?

  1. Fred Diver says:

    Interesting to learn of the danger of decanting in leadded glass. Are the levels of lead forever constant? Or will levels drop the more the ladded glass is used? Is there a formula for how much over time?
    My though: Can a “cheap” alcohol be decanted and tossed, say once a week, till there is relatively no lead danger? Surely leaching can occur only into a certain “depth” of the total thickness of the glass, and/or for so long … Or will all the lead of the decantor eventually have to be leached until the glass is left with “0” lead?

  2. Kyle says:

    Fred, I believe you are correct in that the acid (spirits) will only leach to a certain depth of the crystal, but the problem is that the overall efficiency that lead is leached out of the crystal is relatively low, and consuming even a small amount of lead is dangerous.

    For example, the crystal decanter I own has an interior surface area of about 420 cm^2 and it is 24% lead. That means in the first 0.5 mm of the inside of my decanter, there is over 66 grams of lead (lead crystal that is 24% lead has a density of about 3.15 g/cm^-3). Based on the higher rate above of leaching 5,000 micrograms in 4 months, it would take over 4400 years and over 13000 bottles of cheap liquor to remove the lead in just the first half of a millimeter of a 24% lead crystal decanter.

    • Jim says:

      Only 4,400 years?

    • Andy says:

      Why 0.5 mm and not 0.5 cm? It would be even more impressive. You know, half a millimeter is a pretty thick layer of glass for a liquid to penetrate. If it can do that it can just as well penetrate the whole thing. Most likely, only atoms of lead on the very surface would be leaked to the spirit and that’s what, micrometer? Nanometer?

      But let’s look at the numbers. So brandy absorbs 20,000 µg per liter in 5 years. that means 15,000 µg per 750 ml. Then, it’s unlikely it’d last so long, more like 1 year max, so we’re down to 3,000 µg. But since you’re actually consuming it, not just storing, part of your spirit was consumed with less lead, so really it’s just 1,500 µg. What gives you about 4 µg per day average.

      Now they say water with 50 µg per liter is safe. 80 ml of such water contains 4 µg of lead. In other words, keeping spirit in lead crystal decanter is as “dangerous” as drinking an extra half a glass of water per day.

  3. Kyle says:

    A less mathy and nerdy view would also be that decanters that don’t contain lead are commercially available already, and the lead in lead crystal decanters are what make them more brilliant and generally more expensive. So if you had a nice looking lead crystal decanter and removed the lead from it, it would be not so nice looking anymore, and you could have gotten one like it for a lot less.

    • Jim says:

      I prefer your great nerdy and mathy explanation though, thanks Kyle!

    • Andy says:

      That’s not true. Since lead would be remover only from the very thin layer on the inner surface of the decanter, the overall look wounded change at all. The ideal decanter would be lead crystal with a tiny layer of regular glass on the inside but, I think, it would be actually even more expensive.

  4. Lynn says:

    Hi Jim,

    I appreciate your insight and am in search of a well made lead-free Decanter set (Whisky/Scotch).

    Any suggestions on brands that I should be looking to? Who also ship to Canada?

  5. Lord Z says:

    On our honeymoon 28 years ago, my wife and I bought a leaded crystal decanter and poured a bottle of Chives (our beverage of preference at the time) into it with the idea of driving it several decades hence. We are considering drinking it two years hence, but the idea of the levels of lead content concern us. Informed comments, please?

  6. RC says:

    I’ve read that you can “pre-leach” the lead out by filling with 50%vinegar and 50% water…not sure why the specific mix. Obviously it stands to reason from a scientific standpoint that the lead levels almost have to diminish over usage time, because otherwise we’d have a decanter that eventually could not hold liquid. That doesn’t help the previous poster who’s had something stored for a great length of time…to him I’d say it’s not worth it. Go ahead and treat yourself to a new bottle of whatever your favorite beverage is now!

  7. RC says:

    One more point – I’ve also heard that waiting until your event to transfer your spirit into a crystal decanter is safe. Enjoy your beautiful decanter for the evening, and pour the rest back into the bottle as soon as practicable…

  8. Steven says:

    Drinking a beverage from a leaded glass or decanter is safe, when you first add a 50/50 mix of water & vinegar to any lead crystal glass or vessel. Let the contents sit for 24 hours … drain … rinse … enjoy your beverage and vessel! Any loose lead molecules on the crystal will have leached into the highly acidic vinegar (which is subsequently drained). If a liquid is stored in lead crystal, over time, loose lead can apparently continue to leach from the lead crystal into the liquid for decades after manufacturing.

    If you use your lead crystal only during special occasions, to reduce exposure, merely give your vessel a douche (as above) every few years, or prior to use. This procedure may also be performed when acquiring a pre-owned lead crystal decanter.

    This aforementioned the procedure is suggested by Waterford.

  9. I love the look and feel of a nice, weighty decanter of good spirits. However, after reading from these posts, by Gentlemen obviously of some knowledge on the subject of lead in Crystal Decanters, I believe I shall peel the label off of a nice bottle of Jack Daniels (Single Barrel, of course) and commence to drink directly from the bottle, sans lead, and get royally snockered and go butcher a hog of choice for vittles this week! Cheers To ALL!!

  10. darren cullins says:

    Sure lead is bad for u but they use to line canned goods with it. As a child i would throw a handful of lead pellets in my mouth and suck on them while playing with my pellet gun. As a teenager my friends introduced me to a game of stabbing each other in the hands arms legs with pencils. I still have a few chunks of lead under my skin or at least lead tattoos. I am a red seal mechanic, not retarded. I get checkups every couple years, no problems. I hardly think a little lead in your liquor will hurt you, unless you are a severe alcoholic, in which case its probably not sitting in the bottle very long.

    • sianz says:

      don’t be silly, the lead in pencils are not the same lead that will kill you. i am still surprised at the age of google, people are still having such misconceptions.

      lead stays in your body and builds up. have fun.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>