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Dozens Of Popular E-Cigarettes Contaminated With Microbial And Fungal Toxins

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E-cigarettes contain harmful substances besides nicotine. Study shows that e-cigs are also contaminated with toxins from bacteria and fungi.

The study examined popular brands of vape products and found the presence of impurities in nearly a quarter of single-use e-cigarette cartridges and over three-quarters of e-liquids used for refills.

Contaminated E-Cigarettes

The new research from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that popular e-cigarettes contain traces of endotoxin, a microbial agent found on Gram-negative bacteria, and traces of glucan, which is present in the cell walls of most fungal species.

Exposure to these harmful contaminants is linked to lung disease and other health problems such as asthma, impaired lung function, and inflammation.

"Airborne Gram-negative bacterial endotoxin and fungal-derived glucans have been shown to cause acute and chronic respiratory effects in occupational and environmental settings," said the Elkan Blout Professor of Environmental Genetics David Christiani, senior author of the study.

E-Cigarette Use Among Teens

An estimate of more than 3 million high school students used e-cigarettes in 2018, up from 220,000 in 2011. The Centers for Disease and Prevention maintains that use of e-cigarettes is unsafe for kids, teens, and young adults.

Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive and can harm adolescent brain development, which continues into early to mid-20s. Young people who use e-cigarettes may be more likely to smoke cigarettes in the future. Results of the Harvard study present a new reason to permanently quit vaping.

Endotoxin And Glucan Testing

Endotoxins often contaminate plastic products used in a laboratory. These molecules have high heat stability, making it impossible to destroy them using regular sterilizing conditions.

For the study, the researchers selected 37 e-cigarette cartridges and 38 e-liquid products in tobacco, menthol, and fruit flavors. The products were bought online and except for one brand that was brought from a convenience store. All the products were tested for the presence of endotoxin and glucan.

One limitation of the study is that the researchers screened only first generation vaping devices and not newer products like vaping pens, tanks, and pods. The probe also did not measure the amount of toxin released into the aerosol that vapers inhale.

The results show that 17 products contained endotoxin and the other 61 products contained glucan. Upon further probing, the researchers found that single-use cartridges had slightly higher concentrations of glucan than e-liquid refills. The higher amount of glucan was found in tobacco and menthol-flavored products while endotoxin was higher in fruit-flavored products.

Contaminated Raw Materials

The research suggests that raw materials used in the production of ingredients or of the e-cigarette product might be a source of microbial contamination. They are linking the cotton wicks used in e-cigarette cartridges as the potential source of contamination. Both endotoxin and glucan are known contaminants of cotton fibers.

The scientists recommend stronger regulation of the production and purity of the compounds used in e-cigarettes.

"These new findings should be considered when developing regulatory policies for e-cigarettes," said Mi-Sun Lee, the lead author of the paper.

The study is scheduled for publication in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

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