Traces of MRI contrast medium detected in cola from fast food chains

Traces of MRI contrast medium detected in cola from fast food chains

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Researchers find contrast agent gadolinium in drinks from fast food restaurants

Gadolinium, a component of MRI contrast media, has been detected in cola drinks from restaurants in well-known fast food chains. According to the researchers, the measured concentrations are not hazardous to health according to current knowledge, but they are an indicator of the possible presence of other residues in the drinks.

The metal gadolinium, a component of contrast agents, was detected in drinking water years ago. Now a research group led by Michael Bau, professor of geosciences at Jacobs University Bremen, has also found something in food. The research team identified the contrast agent gadolinium in cola drinks from restaurants in well-known fast food chains in Berlin, Düsseldorf, Essen, Karlsruhe, Munich and Dresden.

Gadolinium in tap water

A few years ago it was discovered that the metal gadolinium, a component of contrast agents for imaging diagnostics in the context of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), can deposit in the brain. The Professional Association of German Nuclear Medicine (BDN) had therefore advised that the contrast media should initially only be used for unavoidable examinations.

But the quantities consumed are increasing from year to year, the Jacobs University Bremen reports in a recent release. Patients excrete the medication in the hospital or at home and the waste water reaches the local sewage treatment plants. There, the contrast media, like many other drug residues, cannot be removed from the water. With the supposedly purified wastewater, they are discharged into rivers and lakes. This is a worldwide phenomenon, as various studies by Michael Bau and his research group at Jacobs University have shown.

A part of the gadolinium is carried into the sea from the rivers, where it already contaminates the North Sea, among other things, while it also reaches the groundwater with the seeping river water. By extracting drinking water from groundwater and bank filtrate, the contrast agent gadolinium is also found in tap water. After Berlin, Essen, Cologne and London, the Bremen researchers have now also proven this for the cities of Bremen, Düsseldorf, Dresden, Karlsruhe and Munich.

In addition, current data for Berlin show that drinking water in individual Berlin districts, such as samples from the Zoo train station, not only has the world's highest proportion (99 percent) of anthropogenic - i.e. man-made - gadolinium in tap water, but that it does have increased significantly in recent years.

But also in the other cities examined, part of the gadolinium in drinking water comes from MRI contrast media: 31 percent in Bremen, 34 percent in Karlsruhe, 63 percent in Dresden, 85 percent in Düsseldorf and 91 percent in Munich. And since the number of MRI examinations continues to increase, this trend towards higher contrast agent concentrations in drinking water will continue to intensify.

Residues in food

However, the main focus of the study recently published in the scientific journal “Science of the Total Environment” was on the question of whether the contrast agent gadolinium can get into food via drinking water in various German conurbations. To this end, the scientists in the cities of Berlin, Düsseldorf, Essen, Karlsruhe, Munich and Dresden examined cola drinks from branches of well-known fast food chains and compared them with tap water samples from the respective district.

As the message says, the result is clear: the drinks show almost the same levels of contrast agent gadolinium as the local tap water. The geochemist Michael Bau finds this unsurprising: “In branches of fast food restaurants, the cola syrup is mixed with tap water and CO2. Although the restaurants say that this tap water has to be cleaned beforehand, this cleaning step is obviously not able to remove the contrast agent residues. ”

Even if the gadolinium in the measured concentrations is not problematic in terms of health according to the current state of knowledge, it is nevertheless an indicator that other chemical substances from the wastewater can also be in the drinking water and the food prepared with it. "These are, for example, pharmaceutical residues and especially the so-called 'endocrine disruptors', which have hormone-like effects in humans and animals and, in contrast to contrast agent gadolinium, affect health in very low concentrations," explains Bau.

In this respect, the anthropogenic gadolinium, according to the construction, is helpful in testing groundwater and drinking water as well as food for the possible presence of so-called "wastewater-related" substances - i.e. impurities that are still present in the water after passing through a sewage treatment plant.

According to the information, gadolinium and other rare earths belong to the group of “critical metals”, such as niobium, antimony, gallium or germanium, which are almost irreplaceable for modern high technologies and thus for the energy transition, electromobility and digitization, but for which there is no security of supply.

While this has led to increased efforts in the area of ​​raw material search and recycling, little is known about the spread and behavior of critical metals in the environment. An integrated consideration of both raw material and environmental problems is one of the focal points in the raw materials and environmental geochemistry research group at Jacobs University Bremen, which is part of the Earth and Environmental Science program. (ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Jacobs University Bremen: Researchers at Jacobs University find gadolinium from MRI contrast media in beverages from fast food restaurants, (accessed: August 31, 2019), Jacobs University Bremen
  • Science of the Total Environment: Anthropogenic gadolinium in tap water and in tap water-based beverages from fast-food franchises in six major cities in Germany, (accessed: August 31, 2019), Science of the Total Environment
  • Professional association of German nuclear medicine specialists: MRI contrast media can remain in the brain, (accessed: August 31, 2019), professional association of German nuclear medicine specialists

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