Heavy Metals group update from Zoe Harris for the week July 8-12

Selenium, Iron, Zinc. These were some ingredients to make the perfect Barbie doll. But the manufacturers accidently-on-purpose added a hazardous ingredient: the element cadmium.

This week the heavy metals group has been busily working on scanning items and interpreting data. This week we tested more toys, dishes, eye-shadow, money, T-shirts, and even started looking at electronics’ cables. There were many toys that did not contain hazardous elements (yay!) but there were a few that did (). Two older Barbie dolls contained high levels of cadmium, ranging from 200 ppm to 600 ppm. These exceed today’s U.S. limit of 100 ppm. We plan to scan more Barbies, to see the differences and similarities between various eras.

Several ceramic dishes contained quite a bit of lead. The highest amount found so far was a Frankoma bowl. This was made up of 27.5 % lead. And yes, this is bad. As the glaze on the bowl gradually wears off, the lead in the glaze leaches out into food. A buildup of lead in the body can cause lead poisoning, especially in children. So, if you notice that one or more of your plates are chipped or there are places where the glaze has been rubbed or worn off, it would be best to buy new dishes. But do not worry that you are getting lead poisoning from every single dish you eat off of. If it is intact with no worn-out spots or chips, it is probably okay to use (no guarantees).

We have been using the software that came with the XRF instrument to analyze our data. It allows the data to be organized to show what elements were detected and how much; it also allows the data to be viewed in spectral form, revealing the spectral fingerprints of the elements in the tested object. We use the spectra to verify the presence of toxic metals. If a certain metal is present, we should be able to see its characterstic peaks.

In the next two weeks we will finish scanning, continue to analyze the data, and get ready for our presentation of our findings. It has been exciting thus far, being able to scan items with our XRF “gun” and see what samples contain what.


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