Earlier in the summer, McDonald’s recalled 12 million promotional children’s “Shrek” beverage glasses due to cadmium contamination, but the company insisted at the time that the glasses were not toxic. However recent regulatory reports have revealed that the glasses were highly toxic, and that a six-year-old who simply touches one eight times in a day is exposed to hazardous levels of the carcinogen.

Though they would not disclose actual levels of cadmium, regulators said that levels were high enough to warrant concern. And since cadmium is known to damage kidneys, lungs and bones — especially in children — the threat of even minimal exposure is problematic. Cadmium can also be found in paints, fertilizers, batteries and cigarettes, and is also known to cause cancer.

The only consumer products that currently have cadmium standards are children’s toys, but glassware like the Shrek cups is exempt, as is children’s jewelry which is often highly contaminated with cadmium and other heavy metals. Maximum cadmium levels in toys is currently 75 soluble parts per million, but neither the cups nor the jewelry are considered “toys”.

The agency responsible for the testing is currently in the process of establishing better guidelines for cadmium in light of the recall. They say that upper thresholds of safety can be established for the toxin, but others insist that since cadmium is a heavy metal, it will build up in the body over time and cause long-term damage even at minute exposure levels.

“Making sure that children don’t take in excess cadmium beyond the diet is a wise thing to do,” explained Jeffrey Weidenhamer, a professor of chemistry at Ashland University in Ohio, in reference to cadmium that is leeched from soil into leafy green vegetables.

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