There may be toxic levels of metals, such as lead, in the heating coils of e-cigarettes, a new study found.
Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health evaluated vaping devices in small random sample of 56 users, and discovered that a significant number of them produced vapor with potentially harmful levels of lead, and other metals such as nickel, manganese and chromium. Prolonged exposure to such metals through inhalation is associated with many dangerous health effects, including cancer and damage to the lungs, heart, liver, brain, and immune system, Forbes reports.
Ana María Rule, PhD, MHS, and senior author of the study, said in a press release,
It’s important for the FDA, the e-cigarette companies and vapers themselves to know that these heating coils, as currently made, seem to be leaking toxic metals–which then get into the aerosols that vapers inhale.
E-cigarettes work when an electric current produced by a battery goes through a metal coil to heat e-liquids with nicotine, creating vapor. This trend of vaping has found a wide following among former smokers, and teenagers as young as middle schoolers. According to a survey conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in 2017, close to 15% of students in 8th, 10th and 11th grades have used e-cigarettes in the past month.
Rule published research last year elevated levels of toxic metals in e-liquids released by the heating coil in vaping devices. This current study recruited e-cigarette users from Maryland in 2015. The team examined their e-cigarettes for 15 metals in the refilling dispensers, e-cigarette reservoirs, as well as in the vapors generated.
There were small traces of metals in the liquids in the refilling dispensers, like in previous studies. But there were greater amounts of metals in the e-liquids that had been exposed to the heating coils in the e-cigarette reservoirs. There were also high levels of metals in the vapors generated by heating the liquids, to such an extent that they are certainly toxic when inhaled.
Rule said, “These were median levels only. The actual levels of these metals varied greatly from sample to sample, and often were much higher than safe limits.”
The heating coils are made of nickel, chromium and other metals, pointing to the source of contamination. But the source of lead is not clear, Rule said. “We don’t know yet whether metals are chemically leaching from the coil or vaporizing when it’s heated.”
It’s the long-term effects of vaping and the exposure to these metals that is important, Rule said. “We’ve established with this study that there are exposures to these metals, which is the first step, but we need also to determine the actual health effects,” she concluded.
The study was published in Environmental Health Perspectives.