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Dec 1, 2008 03:19 PM

Is Nickel Leaching out of my Stainless Steel Press Pot?

About a week ago, I was drinking oolong tea out of my Bodum Stainless Steel Press Pot. This is the exact pot I have:

I almost finished my tea and left it out overnight. Was feeling fine. There was probably about 1/2 cup of water with the tea leaves sitting in the pot. The next day, I added more hot water for a second brewing. I didn't feel very well after drinking three cups of tea and got very nauseous and ended up vomiting. Didn't think anything of it -- just thought I may be coming down with something. The next day, I did the same thing -- made some oolong tea (new tea) in the pot, drank it and left it out overnight. Felt OK. Next day I added more hot water and made a second brewing. After about a cup of tea, I started getting really nauseous and weak. I stopped drinking the tea. The next few nights, I've had some difficulty breathing and a dry throat at night. I was wondering if it was my asthma coming back (haven't had it since I was a teenager). I then was reading about nickel toxicity and wondered if it came from my press pot.

I've drank oolong tea for years with no problems. So it's probably not the tea. I've left tea leaves in a ceramic mug overnight and drank a second brewing the next day with no problems at all. So I don't think it has anything to do with the tea being old. But I've never left the tea in a stainless pot overnight.

So is it possible that the tea (which is slightly acidic) leached out nickel from my pot? I've always thought that stainless steel was supposed to be safe. I have no nickel allergies. Could be coincidence, but it appears that something happened when my tea was stored in the pot overnight. I'm in no mood to test my hypothesis.

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  1. i wish i had answers for you, miss needle. all i can say is, i hope you feel better. that sounds like a terrible few days. (i was wondering where you were and how you were doing -- you hadn't posted for a while.)

    have you used this pot often in the past? are you allergic to nickel in other contexts (like in jewelry)? since nickel is a heavy metal and can build up in your system over time, it is possible that if you already have a lot of nickel in your body, just a little bit more would give you symptoms of poisoning. is it possible for you to get a test?

    in general, i often get queasy after drinking tea or coffee on an empty stomach, but never had difficulty breathing.

    let me know if you need anything--really.

    4 Replies
    1. re: cimui

      Thanks, cimui, for your concern. You're so sweet. I'm OK right now. Actually, I haven't been posting for a while because I was out of town.

      To answer your question, I have used this pot in the past but never left tea in there overnight. I'm not allergic to nickel in jewelry. Perhaps I've built it up over time and perhaps I should get tested. Right now, we're between health insurance companies so I'm a bit hesitant about getting stuff done (for financial reasons as well as preexisting condition reasons for my next insurance company). Seems that I'm fine with the first brew of tea. It's when the tea sits in the pot overnight and I do the second brew where it's giving me problems. And, ipsedixit, this is indeed the same batch of tea I've used before with no problems (first brewing in stainless steel pot and second brewing in a ceramic mug). The only variable is that it has been sitting in the pot overnight. I should mention that I've taken a scouring pad to the press pot at one point as DH left tea in the pot for a week. I'm wondering if using the scouring pad did something to the stainless steel.

      I will try making some tea tonight in the pot (first batch) and see what happens.

      1. re: Miss Needle

        from the journal of biomedical materials research:

        "Stainless steel and titanium alloys are the most common metallic orthopedic materials. ... Nickel ion leaching is correspondingly worse if the surface corrosion resistance deteriorates..... Immersion tests were carried out to investigate the extent of nickel leaching under simulated human body conditions.... The sample with surface TiN [titanium nitride] exhibits the highest amount of cell proliferation [good since you're talking about cells growing around the implant] whereas stainless steel fares the worst."

        these are from internet sources i'm not familiar with. but for what they're worth:

        "Every cooking material will leach some metal into the food, especially under high temperatures. Acidic and alkaline foods will increase the leaching for certain types of cookware.... Stainless steel that has been cleaned and scoured with a metallic pad may also leach a small amount of nickel into the food, when exposed to alkaline food. If your food tastes metallic, you should consider changing your cookware."

        "For the record, in lab tests stainless steels do loose mass in the presence of certain food stuffs namely vinegar fumes and concentrated salt water solutions (watch out for ketchup). Some publications have noted that cows milk has a high level of nickel compared to other foods this may be due ubiquitous use of stainless steel containers to store bulk milk. More independently funded research into the amount of metals that leach into various foods from contact with stainless steel would provide more information."

        i really wouldn't brew in this particular pot for a while, not even for first round tea brewing -- and at least not before you get on your next health plan. whatever nickel you might be ingesting stays in your system for a while. i might be moderately paranoid, but better safe than sorry.

        1. re: cimui

          Bless you for all the research! Hmm... guess my scouring of the pot wasn't a good thing. DH had old tea in the press pot and put it away in the cupboard. When I found it and dumped it out, there was a ring in the pot that wouldn't wash away -- hence, the scouring pad.

          You're probably right about avoiding the pot for a while until we get our health plan situation all sorted out. Thank you so much for all this info! : )

          1. re: Miss Needle

            gosh, my pleasure. totally beats real work.

    2. Was it the same type (or brand) of oolong tea that you've used in the past?

      1. I think it much more likely you're ingesting a lot of mycotoxin from the leaves sitting out all night, nice and warm and damp, for any fungal spore to come along and colonize. The acidity of the leaves is antithetical to many types of bacterial formation, to be sure, but many molds and fungals have no such compunctions, and in fact like acidic soils -- think humus in a forest, for example, it's a perfect habitat.

        One of my old bosses used to leave half-drunk coffee out all night, and in the morning, you'd have a lovely slime mold colonizing the top of the brew. He'd drink it anyway.

        I'd just start washing out your pot and not reusing your old leaves a day later. Frugality is a virtue, to be sure, but not to the detriment of your health. Euuggh.

        7 Replies
        1. re: themis

          a lot of older asian folks, including my spry and healthy 90 year old grandma, have been leaving old tea leaves out overnight and rebrewing for just about their entire lives with no ill effect. i doubt it's mold that's making Miss N feel sick. it's not actually just frugality in many cases, the character of the tea changes on the second brewing.

          1. re: themis

            Cimui is correct about the rebrewing. There is different taste to the second brewing. So it's not for frugality reasons (though I'm always looking to save a buck).

            The mold could be a plausible explanation -- except that I drink old tea left overnight from ceramic mugs with no problem.

            1. re: Miss Needle

              I stand by my answer -- and I'm an industrial hygienist, so I pretty much sample people for things like heavy metals, hexavalent chromium, and mold for a living. So I speak in terms of TCLPs and 8RCRA and ASR and OSHA PELs, and I send people letters outlining their sampling results every day. It's unrelated, but I also have a well-developed nickel allergy. If anyone is interested, the austenitic structure of stainless steel is such that any scratch forms a passivation layer pretty quickly and leaching is highly unlikely after a matter of a minute, let alone two days of sitting after a scour. Even so, since chromium has greater motility and is present at a higher concentration than nickel it would actually be the more likely culprit.

              But it seems as if you've made up your mind, so I apologize for intruding. I would encourage you to refrigerate your tea leaves, at any rate.

              1. re: themis

                Themis, I appreciate your input on the matter. No need to apologize. The reason I thought it was nickel versus chromium was that my symptoms seemed more in line with nickel. But one can't really self-diagnose these things and need to get it verified with tests.

                It's still probably a good idea to refrigerate my tea leaves -- or better yet, make less at one sitting and drink the second brewing on the same day!

                1. re: themis

                  themis, i stumbled across a *lot* of ads for home testing kits for heavy metals poisoning online. any recommendations on which one(s) might be best for chromium and nickel? sounds like you have a great deal of expertise in the area.

                  1. re: cimui

                    No, I wouldn't have any idea. Metals testing is something that either takes a good-sized vial of blood to do, or for exposure, wearing a personal pump breathing in your airspace for most of a day. I don't trust samples not run by an accredited/licensed laboratory; and I don't know about you, but I don't keep an inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometer around the house. I don't throw around the word 'bunkum' lightly, but that's what those kits and those foot-pads that theoretically leach metals out of you body amount to -- they have been thoroughly debunked, and it makes me sad that frightened people are preyed upon this way by unscrupulous companies.

                    I suppose my whole post has little to do with chow and may be deleted. Hope you feel better, Miss Needle, at any rate.

                    1. re: themis

                      >>and I don't know about you, but I don't keep an inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometer around the house.

                      well, now that you mention it...
                      it's not one of those appliances that gets counterspace, though. ;)

            2. FYI, if your pot is OK and not leaching nickel, you may have just come down with a stomach bug. There is a stomach virus going around. My husband and I were sick last week too. My doctor thought it might have been food poisoning, but he now thinks we were victims of a stomach virus because he had an influx of patients with the same symptoms.

              1. From a toxicology/environmental health perspective, it is impossible for you to be ingesting enough nickel from incidental leaching to develop nickel poisoning. The article that cimui cites involves internally implanted nickel-containing medical devices, which is quite different exposure compared to a couple cups of tea each day, and regardless, patients with significant amounts of implanted metal are not affected by nickel poisoning. Just because nickel is detectable does not mean the the levels are toxic. The other references are anecdotal and not scientifically validated.

                Individuals with nickel poisoning generally have documented occupational exposure (metal working, plating, finishing) to specific nickel salts that are particularly hazardous (absorbed more readily than the nickel present in stainless steel, for instance), and not from incidental exposure to nickel containing metals. One would think that nickel poisoning would be epidemic otherwise.

                But regardless, this may be a fantastic opportunity to by a fabulous ceramic teapot if you are uncomfortable with the stainless steel component in your current apparatus! And I do hope you feel better soon!