I have a little confession to make. You know that saying about “burying your head in the sand” to avoid something? That has always been me about all these scares about BPA, mercury in vaccinations, lead in dishes, etc. There always seems to be something new to be afraid of and then people saying it’s being blown out of proportion and why don’t we all just live in a bubble. Now that I have two kids and I even find it strange that it seems like kids today have all sorts of allergies I don’t recall being as common when I was growing up and autism seems to be on the rise (a doctor friend mentioned this is because diagnosis are more accurate and likely to realize kids are autistic) but I still wonder. A discussion about lead in dishes on one of my bargain discussion boards finally made me get off my butt and start looking into this. A lot of this information came from them and sources they posted and my own online sources. NOTE: I don’t claim to be an expert, to have done an exhaustive search or have verified every source I mention. This is all just food for thought. As some people have pointed out replacing our existing dishes can be expensive & honestly with one parent out of work and the other possibly being laid off later in the year we can’t afford to go on a spending spree BUT I am definitely going to try my best to minimize my kids exposure to as many of these iffy things as possible. Thanks to the wonderful ladies on the BabyCenter Coupon Deals For Bargain Hunters board for all the great info and for getting me started doing my own research!
Lead in Dishes
At the pediatrician one of the first questions we were asked after the birth of each child was do we live in a home with lead paint, is the paint chipping, etc and about possible lead exposure in older homes. Not once did anyone mention lead in dishes to me and I naively assumed that if the dish is on the market it must be safe. I looked up the lead guidelines posted on the FDA website back in 2010 here. It mentions that lead can be present in glazes or decorations covering the surface of traditional pottery and this lead can leach into food and drink prepared, stored or served on these dishes. These lines freaked me out
“infants, young children and the developing fetus can be affected by chronic exposure to amounts of lead that may not result in obvious symptoms of lead poisoning. A child with lead poisoning may not look or act sick.Lead poisoning in children has been linked to:
- learning disabilities
- developmental delays
- lower IQ scores”
Here is some information I came across about the dangers of lead “once you have ingested lead, the FDA estimates than an adult will absorb around 11% of the lead ingested, and for kids it can range from 30% to 75%. It should also be noted that once in your system, lead hangs around for a long time. Lead’s half-life is 20 years, so that means that in twenty years from now, half of the lead that you absorb today will still be there in your body wrecking havoc on your system.” (From the Prosper Organics website)
Now in this day and age you assume everything should be lead free BUT for folk pottery some of the old kilns may still have the residue of the lead glaze that can unintentionally contaminate the piece. FDA regulations state that these types of ceramics must have a warning on them that they may not be safe for food use but I think I will still stay away from these.
The other tricky thing dishes can contain lead up to a “safe level”. I read an explanation of Proposition 65 in California which from what I gather is supposed to be more stringent than the FDA guidelines and it says that warnings have to be placed on products that contain any of the elements listed in the prop unless it is below the stated guidelines. For example,
“For chemicals that are listed as causing cancer, the “no significant risk level” is defined as the level of exposure that would result in not more than one excess case of cancer in 100,000 individuals exposed to the chemical over a 70-year lifetime. In other words, a person exposed to the chemical at the “no significant risk level” for 70 years would not have more than a “one in 100,000” chance of developing cancer as a result of that exposure.” (From the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment page “Proposition 65 in Plain Language“)
So this means companies like say Corelle can side step answering the question if their dishes contain lead by saying:
“All CORELLE® stoneware products and glazes are made of clay-based materials and glazes used throughout the industry. Decorations, if present, are made from low-lead enamels and fired at temperatures exceeding 1000 degrees F, which binds any heavy metals both physically and chemically so that their release is minimized.” (From their FAQ page answering the question Does Corelle contain lead?)
Now someone pointed out this is fine and dandy if your dishes are pristine and have never been scratched, have crackles, cracks or chips. But if they do then it’s possible for that lead to begin leaching out and into your food. So after years of exposure what would the affects be? Especially for kids who I know at least for myself we use Corelle because they are so durable and withstand the kids dropping them.
What Are the Chances?
Now if you are like me you are probably thinking ok but what are the chances that their is lead leaching in my dishes AND that this is going to have a negative affect on me or my children? Well, check out this article about one couple’s daughter who was having trouble concentrating and after being tested for heavy metals was found to have elevated levels of lead. Water tested out ok. House was newer and no lead paint. Then they tested their dishes. They found their dishes contained 27,600 parts per million of lead. Is this a lot? Well according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission it’s illegal for toys or other children’s products to contain more than 300 parts per million of lead.
13 Investigates in Indianapolis obtained an Innov-X Systems XRF analyzer and received training on using it to test other dishes. “Of the 315 plates, bowls and mugs analyzed, 113 (36%) exceeded the CPSC lead limit of 300 ppm used as a benchmark for children’s products. One out of ten dishes contained more than 10,000 ppm of lead, and several of them topped 100,000 ppm.”
The Marion County Health Department said that their is no reason for consumers to worry because it’s not the level of lead in the dish that matters, it’s the amount that leaches out into your food and into your body. The FDA believes that glazing does provide an adequate barrier to protect people from the lead in dishes. (Article here) But with lead levels possibly as high as mentioned above should we risk it? One woman who found her daughter had a high level of lead said:
“Those plates may be fine for a couple of years, but then when you’re cutting things on them, day in and day out, heating them up in the microwave and it’s breaking down that glaze, then what happens?” and the article goes on to say “Even industry insiders admit, that’s still a question.”
Just in a very brief search about testing lead levels in dishes I was surprised to see how many of those news investigate segments were done about lead levels in dishes and how most of them did find higher levels of lead than is safe. Here are a few if you want to check them out and they also list labs where you can get your dishes tested:
- WTVR CBS6 Investigates, Richmond, VA
- 13 Investigates, Indianapolis, Indiana
- ConsumerWatch, San Francisco, CA (they tested “ceramic cultural tableware”)
- Target 11 Investigates, Pittsburgh, PA
- 10 New I Team investigates, San Diego, CA (This one is kind of scary because it mentions a company that said their dishes were tested for lead in Indonesia and were deemed safe but independent tests done by the FDA showed higher than safe levels.)
What to Look For?
Unfortunately trying to figure out what dishes are safe isn’t easy. Just because a dish is white doesn’t mean it’s lead free. Here are a few guidelines I’ve come across during my research:
- Lead in dishes wasn’t regulated until the 1970s so dishes made before then are much more likely to contain lead
- Dishes that have crackles, cracks, chips, scratches from using a steak knife on them, etc could potentially allow lead to leach through.
- Traditional folk ceramic dishes from other countries are also more likely to test high for lead levels
What Companies Have to Say
*NOTE there are a ton of companies out there and this is in no way an exhaustive list. These are just some of the companies I came across in my research or from other discussions.
Companies Who Are Lead Free
Apilco: I couldn’t find anything on the William & Sonoma website but I checked out a few of the descriptions for various Apilco products on Amazon.com and they liste “It’s also lead-, arsenic-, and cadmium-free” or something to that effect. (Amazon.com)
Bennington Potters: Their site highlights a quote “Thank you, thank you, thank you for still making dinnerware proudly made in the USA and without lead or cadmium.” and under their Everyday Dinnerware section it states “Choose from 10 beautiful shades. All lead-free and microwave safe!”
Denby USA: Feel at ease when using Denby as we have provided a safe product for you and your family. NO LEAD or cadmium is used during the manufacturing process of any Denby product. (From their Why Choose Denby page)
Homer Laughlin China Company: Specializing in high-fired, lead- free glazes with an Alpha Alumina body, Homer Laughlin remains the largest domestic pottery employing over 1100 skilled workers in a 37 acre facility. As a leader in the china design and manufacturing market, Homer Laughlin has pursued the issues that matter most: lead-free dinnerware, durability, contemporary design and timely delivery. (From their Company Information) They are probably most well known for their Fiesta line of dishes (note this is for their newer line so if buying older dishes from flea markets, Goodwills, etc it’s not guaranteed they are lead free).
Companies Who Say Their Dishes Are Safe (You Decide)
Emile Henry: There is no lead or cadmium in our products, all of the glazes meet California Prop 65, and all of the products are 100% food safe. Offered in a large variety of colors, the glazes will not craze, discolor or fade over time. (From their About page) I listed them here even though they say no lead or cadmium because of the first comment on this post that said theirs tested positive for lead. I don’t know what the deal really is.
Pfaltzgraff: So the author of this blog says she contacted the company and the reply was “It is our Company Policy to use only lead-free glazes, pigments or decals in our porcelain, stoneware, china and earthenware products. We know of no company with a more stringent policy with respect to the use of lead, cadmium and other contaminants than Pfaltzgraff.” However, the statement on their FAQ page says “Pfaltzgraff, a Lifetime Brands company, stands behind the safety and quality of all of its products. All of our products are tested by accredited, independent laboratories and meet or exceed all federal standards relating to lead and other contaminants.” As stated above federal standards don’t say dishes have to be lead free, just that they contain safe levels so I’m not sure on this one.
Terra Keramik: I wasn’t able to get their US site to load but found a few articles that list it as lead and cadium free. This article states “Combined with lead and cadmium-free glazes, the result is a lovely rainbow of cups, teapots, plates and bowls.” (Inhabitat.com)
Lenox: I couldn’t find any info on their website but this blog author states that she contacted the company and they said “In response to your inquiry regarding the lead content in our products, lead can be found in our tableware, crystal products and hand-painted products.” (Wild in the City)
Noritake: if you check out the comments in this post by doing a search for Noritake you will see some very roundabout answers in regard to whether or not their products contain lead. One post did say that when they ordered some dishes they did arrive with the California Prop 65 warning that the dish could expose a person to lead. This was in regard to the Harvest line. On the Macy’s site the description for this ColorWave plate from Noritake says “lead free glaze” so I’m not so sure about this company. (Macy’s site)
Pillivuyt: I also couldn’t find an official website statement but some of the items on Amazon do state “lead-free glaze” but not all the ones I looked at.
So it appears a lot of people recommend instead of taking chances you can also switch to glass ware. Of course those like me with kids or who are just plain clumpsy themselves are a little hesitant to fill our kitchens with glassware. Here are some other alternatives I’ve come across and am curious to hear from those who have tried them out.
Duralex: they list some benefits of Duralex to be “impact and chip resistant”, “shock resistant”, “safety” and “Hygienic” among others. (Benefits of Tempered Glassware page on their site). They even have a line called Duralex Kids but from the few reviews I’ve read opinion is split on if they are any more durable than other glass dishes. I also found it confusing that some people say when the dishes shattered they broke into sharp pieces while others said they broke into small pieces that were not sharp. Anyone own any and have an opinion?
Ikea: According to Safemama.com the Kala line is BPA, PVC and Phthalates free and is not made of melamine. We have the plates and bowls and love them. I need to go back and get the cups. You can check out Safe Mama’s cheatsheet on BPA, PVC, Phthalates and Melamine free dishes for kids here.
Thermos: They’re containers are BPA free and we have used both the Foogoo and Funtainer cups for our kids to keep their milk warm.
More kid dishes suggestions at Smart Mommy Healthy Baby.
Testing For Lead
There are lead testing kits that you can pick up from Home Depot, Lowe’s, order from Amazon, etc. Consumer Reports tested 5 different kits and you can read some of the comments here. These kits only test for lead on the surface so it’s not a guarantee that your dishes do not contain lead. It only tests if lead has leached and is present on the surface of the dish.
XRF Testing can tell you whether lead is present in your dishes. I couldn’t find actual costs to rent a scanner because the websites I visited all said to contact them for pricing info which I take to mean it’s probably pretty pricey.
Phew, is your head spinning yet? And I haven’t even looked too deeply into melamine dishes which I know are sitting in my cabinets. Keep an eye out for more on that soon!
What Will I Do?
In the end the one common company I saw mentioned over and over as lead free, BPA free, safe for kids, etc was Ikea so since money is tight I will definitely be starting there to replace the dishes my kids eat from with the Ikea Kala dishes.