Leather Contains Cobalt and Poses a Risk of Allergic Contact Dermatitis: Cobalt Indicator Solution and X-ray Florescence Spectrometry as Screening Tests

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Cobalt was recently identified in a leather couch responsible for dermatitis. Cobalt content/release in leather in the United States is unknown. We evaluated leather for cobalt content/release and investigated screening methods for identifying cobalt in leather.


One hundred thirty-one leather swatches were screened for cobalt content/release with X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometry and cobalt indicator solution (CIS). Samples with positive screens and 1 negative control were analyzed using inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICPMS).


CIS showed that 5 of 131 samples contained cobalt, subsequently found to be between 1 and 190 parts per million (ppm) when evaluated with ICPMS. The XRF analysis showed that 6 samples contained >5% cobalt, subsequently found to contain greater than 300 ppm cobalt by ICPMS. 7 of 12 tested swatches contained cobalt in excess of 100 ppm. One sample contained greater than 1000 ppm cobalt. The prevalence of swatches containing cobalt at levels in excess of 190 ppm was at least 5% (n = 7; total, N = 131).


Some leather consumer goods contain and release cobalt. Cobalt indicator solution is a poor screening test for cobalt in leather while XRF screening may be effective. Leather is a new source of cobalt exposure. Exposures to metal allergens are changing in ways that impact clinical decision making.

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