Most importantly, the scientists showed that the metal contamination carried over to the aerosols produced by heating the e-liquids.
A "significant" number of devices produced aerosols with potentially unsafe levels of lead, chromium, manganese and/or nickel, the researchers found. Aerosol metal concentrations were highest for e-cigarette users with more frequently changed coils. According to the study's authors, chromium and nickel have been linked to respiratory disease and lung cancer.
Led by Pablo Olmedo, a post-doctoral researcher at the Bloomberg School, the team of scientists tested for the presence of 15 metals in e-liquid samples from the refilling dispenser, aerosol and in the coil-containing e-cigarette tanks.
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The study backs up a previous one done by the same researchers back in 2017, which found heavy metals in several different brands of e-liquid - though at wildly inconsistent rates. Significant levels (nearing or exceeding current health-based limits) of chromium, manganese, nickel and lead were found in about half of the samples. The Environmental Protection Agency said that nearly 50 percent of aerosol samples had lead concentrations higher than health-based limits.
"...These heating coils, as now made, seem to be leaking toxic metals, which then get into the aerosols that vapers inhale..." While the study's authors hypothesize that the metals appear in the e-cig vapor thanks to the metal coils, they do not know how arsenic apparently finds it way into the e-cig refill liquid itself. Vaping-inhaling this aerosol as if it were cigarette smoke-is popular especially among teens, young adults, and former smokers.
They found minimal metal in e-liquids within refilling dispensers, but much larger amounts in e-liquids that had been exposed to heating coils within e-cigarette tanks.
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For the study, 56 daily e-cigarette users from vaping conventions and e-cigarette shops around Baltimore participated.
The researchers say their findings "suggest that using e-cigarettes instead of conventional cigarettes may result in less exposure to cadmium but not to other hazardous metals found in tobacco". "We found lower concentrations in e-cigarettes for cadmium and arsenic".
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The next step, Rule said in a release from Johns Hopkins, is to get to the bottom of whether these metals are harmful or not - and to present that data to regulators so they can make informed decisions.