ByJudy Siegel-Itzkovich, Eliyahu Kamisher
18 January 2017 18:01

Gov’t says certain models could be harmful to health, warns pregnant women to avoid them

After receiving information that institutional coffee machines – at work, cafes, restaurants and hotels – could be emitting higher-than-permissible levels of lead, the government will soon begin a comprehensive sampling of models to determine the risk.

“Certain models” of coffee machines – and not devices that just boil water – could be harmful to health, especially for pregnant women and their fetuses but also for children and adults, the Health and Economy ministries announced.

Nevertheless, on Wednesday afternoon in Tel Aviv, cafes remained busy and customers appeared unfazed. “It’s just another Health Ministry report,” said Oz, who was ordering an ice cafe at Arcaffe at Habimah Square. “Next week it will be something else. I’m not going to stop drinking coffee.”

Oz’s wife, who declined to be named, said she had heard that Arcaffe’s coffee machines are safer than those of other cafes, so she was enjoying an extra-strong cappuccino with soy milk. “I won’t drink at [coffee chain] Café, Café. Their machines are dangerous.” (The Jerusalem Post has not confirmed this claim about either chain.) Of the coffee machine models examined so far, 30% were found to be safe, with a lead level of less than 10 micrograms per liter. A fifth of the machines had levels lower than 20 micrograms of lead per liter.

In the rest of them, the coffee was found to have between 20 and 150 micrograms of lead per liter, the Health Ministry said.

Coffee with more than 20 micrograms per liter should not be drunk.

It is the metal parts and connections inside the machines that may release lead into the coffee. The amount of lead may vary from one machine to another as a result of differences in raw materials, the manufacturing process and maintenance of the device, the ministry continued.

A barista at Arcaffee said he is not worried about lead in the coffee because his machine is “up to American standards.”

The barista added that customer flow was unchanged despite the Health Ministry report.

Excess lead can have a variety of influences on health. In adults, exposure to it has been linked with cardiovascular diseases and elevated blood pressure. It can also harm kidney function and male and female reproductive systems.

But the group that is most sensitive to excess lead is fetuses and young children, as some of the lead is released by the mother’s bone tissue to help the fetus build its skeleton.

It can pass through the placenta and also via mother’s milk.

Excessive lead raises the risk of miscarriage, low birth weight and harm to children’s cognitive development, and can reduce IQ and cause learning problems.

Testing of models of institutional coffee machines will take about a month, the ministry said. The use of a machine found to produce too much lead will be prohibited until it is repaired or replaced.

The ministry said, however, that there is “no immediate risk to health.” Yet it suggested caution – reducing the amount of coffee you drink from institutional coffee machines until the results of tests are completed.

It also recommended that pregnant women avoid drinking coffee from coffee machines until further notice (but they can have coffee made by mixing dried coffee with hot water). In any case, pregnant women have long been advised to reduce their drinking of caffeinated beverages.