The authors were aware of previous studies that measured metals in closed system, cigalike-style products, and wanted to instead test for metals in vape tanks, which are the most common products used by regular vapers. So they asked the vapers they had recruited to participate in the study to bring their own vape gear and refill e-liquid to the interview.
They then tested the e-liquid in the refill bottles and the tanks that had been exposed to the metal atomizer coils for 15 different metals. They also tested the vapor itself.
“Of the metals significantly present in the aerosols, lead, chromium, nickel and manganese were the ones of most concern, as all are toxic when inhaled,” says the Johns Hopkins press release. “The median lead concentration in the aerosols, for example, was about 15 μg/kg, or more than 25 times greater than the median level in the refill dispensers. Almost 50 percent of aerosol samples had lead concentrations higher than health-based limits defined by the Environmental Protection Agency. Similarly, median aerosol concentrations of nickel, chromium and manganese approached or exceeded safe limits.”
Pretty frightening, right? There’s just one problem: the researchers judged the results by EPA limits, which measure safe concentrations in the air we breathe all day long. But vapers don’t breathe vapor constantly all day long. Environmental standards are the wrong way to measure something that is only inhaled occasionally.
Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos, a medical doctor and research fellow at the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center in Athens, Greece, caught the error (or deception) right away. Dr. Farsalinos has made a career of doing fair research on vapor products, and he’s done more than anyone to call out other scientists with lower standards.
In a Facebook post, Farsalinos quickly deflated the conclusions of the Johns Hopkins study.
“The ‘significant amount’ of metals the authors reported they found were measured in μg/kg,” wrote Farsalinos. “In fact they are so low that for some cases (chromium and lead) I calculated that you need to vape more than 100 ml per day in order to exceed the FDA limits for daily intake from [inhaled] medications. The authors once again confuse themselves and everyone else by using environmental safety limits related to exposure with every single breath, and apply them to vaping. However, humans take more than 17,000 (thousand) breaths per day but only 400-600 puffs per day from an e-cigarette.”
In other words, the Johns Hopkins researchers found nothing unusual — nothing that should alarm vapers or regulators — but they translated their results into terms that would create maximum panic.
And, sadly, vapers helped them do it.