Glasses decorated with children’s cartoon characters or festive designs can contain toxic metals that could wear down and be consumed over time. Picture: Flickr.com

London - Drinking glasses could contain potentially harmful levels of the metals lead and cadmium, a study has found.

Glasses decorated with children’s cartoon characters or festive designs can contain toxic metals that could wear down and be consumed over time.

Researchers from the University of Plymouth examined glasses bought from homeware shops and supermarkets. They found around 70 percent contained lead, and almost the same proportion cadmium, which have both been linked to cancer. 

Author Dr Andrew Turner said: "The presence of hazardous elements in both the paint and glaze of decorated glassware has obvious implications for both human health and the environment. There are genuine health risks posed through ingesting such levels of the substances over a prolonged period."

Cadmium is a known carcinogen, linked to heart disease and diabetes, while lead acts as a neurotoxin that can affect learning, behaviour and memory.

The research examined 72 new and second-hand glasses. The amount of decoration varied from less than five percent on beer glasses with small logos to more than 90 percent for coloured spirit glasses.

Researchers cited the example of a child’s glass with a picture of a character from the Disney movie Finding Nemo on it. Acid removed one bright orange fin, raising fears such pigments could flake away and be swallowed by youngsters.

The researchers said the health dangers of heavy metals come from "the accumulation of low doses" over decades. In the past glasses have been recalled because of concerns about cadmium.

Previous studies found decorated glasses also contain arsenic and chromium, with unglazed designs thought to be the biggest risk.