The researchers did observe, however, that aerosol metal concentrations tended to be higher for e-cigarettes with more frequently changed coils-suggesting that fresher coils give off metals more readily. The researchers say chronic exposure to the metals has been linked to lung, brain and heart damage, as well as cancer.
Although the Food and Drug Administration has the authority to regulate e-cigarettes, it is considering its options.
"Several shortcomings were found in a similar study conducted by the same institute past year, including overestimating normal levels of exposure, not factoring in exposure to metals from daily activities, small sample size of products tested", Samrat Chowdhery, Director, Assocation of Vapers India (AVI), said in a statement. The difference indicated that the metals nearly certainly had come from the coils, the researchers say.
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.
Almost half of the e-cigarettes were producing vapor with lead concentrations over the maximums considered safe by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
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The study examined not only the liquid inside e-cigs but also the liquid inside the pen's chamber and the vapor itself.
"These were median levels only", Rule says.
The culprits, the scientists think, are the heating coils that convert the e-liquid into a vapor to be inhaled.
Researchers sampled 56 vape devices from real life vape smokers - not newer models that aren't subject to the same toxins - that proved heating up substances in plastic is actually very bad for you. Unlike the metals, arsenic was present in the liquid, liquid in the dispenser, and aerosol alike.
"We don't know yet whether metals are chemically leaching from the coil or vaporizing when it's heated", Dr. Rule added. Most important, the scientists showed that the metal contamination carried over to the aerosols produced by heating the e-liquids. Rule's team plans further studies.
The full study has been published online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. Researchers aren't sure where it came from or why regulators didn't find it sooner.