How to Find Lead- and Cadmium-Free Dishes
Health Effects of Lead and Cadmium
I started reading about the dangers of lead and cadmium content in our dinnerware from my perspective as a mosaic artist. I noticed the residue in the water reservoir of my ring saw after I used it to cut dinner plates.
I nip and saw beautiful, colorful old dinnerware from all over the world. I handle it and breathe it and I was curious: how dangerous are these elements?
After some research, I quickly became interested as a grandma and as a human who loves children.
- Lead accumulates in your bones where it displaces calcium.
- Cadmium exposure can cause kidney disease, lung damage, cancer, and fragile bones.
- According to the FDA, adults absorb 11% of the lead that reaches their digestive tract, and children absorb between 30 to 75%.
- When lead is inhaled, up to 50% is absorbed.
- The half-life for lead is about 20 years. In other words, of the amount you have in your body now, half of it will still be in your body 20 years from now.
Exposure to Children
We know that children are in danger from the lead and cadmium contained in imported toys, jewelry, lunch bags, candy, and baby bibs.
The list goes on and on and it’s been all over the news. Even handbags have been in the news. Imported handbags are full of lead, and moms sometimes carry their baby’s bottle, pacifier, toys, bibs and washcloths in them.
From what I read on the Internet today, children are also in danger of absorbing these poisons in their own home while eating food lovingly prepared by their parents and protectors!
As parents we must do our best to reduce exposure whenever possible. It is our responsibility to make whatever changes are necessary, without naively relying on the government.
Getting Information on Contaminants in Dishware
I found this statement in an Internet article: "For more information on lead and cadmium in dinnerware and a list of companies that offer safe dinnerware, visit "Environmental Defenses Website."
But when I clicked on that link, this is what I got: “For information on lead in consumer products, please visit the Center for Environmental Health. EDF no longer maintains updated listings on lead in china dishes.” (I never did find that list.) Hmmmm.
How It Gets Into Your Body
Lead and cadmium from dinnerware can leach into your body by:
- Eating acidic foods off it
- Microwaving it
- Washing it in a dishwasher (the heat and powerful water action can damage the glazed surface) (who wants to hear this information)!
Why Was Lead Ever Used in the First Place?
It’s been used for thousands of years to make dishes durable and to make bright and glasslike colored glazes. In the USA, government standards supposedly limit lead in dishes, yet imported dinnerware still poses a threat.
Mexican pottery remains a major source of exposure, and consumers are advised to avoid cooking or storing food in imported bean pots, decorative pieces and other ceramics from Latin America, Asia and other areas.
While most dinnerware sold in the USA conforms to legal lead limits, it is not easy for consumers to know about the lead content of specific items. How could we? It is impossible to track every item and its lead content.
- Terra cotta pottery from Latin America, especially more rustic items with a transparent glaze
- Highly decorated Asian dishware
- Dishware with food contact surfaces containing bright colored decorations
- Glazed pieces with rough, raised or worn decorations, indicating that the decoration is on top of the glaze
- Antique dishware or dishware made before 1970
- Leaded crystal glassware should not be used by children or pregnant women, and food or liquids, including wine, should never be stored in lead crystal.
Getting Information on Your Dishware
Concerned consumers can ask retailers or email or phone manufacturers to see if they know the lead content of the products they sell. Some of them do not respond. Even if they do, how can we be sure they’re correctly informed?
The bottom line is that some manufacturers say that their products are lead-free because they meet Food and Drug Administration guidelines. They can legally get away with saying that. Other, more honest manufacturers say, no, their products are not lead-free.
The FDA vs the EPA
Unlike toys and most other consumer products, dishes are regulated by the FDA. The FDA doesn't care how much lead is in a plate. It wants to know how much lead leaches out, something an XRF cannot detect. For that, there is a special leach test that can only be done in a laboratory.
The FDA tests for leachable lead amounts, while the EPA tests for the lead content. If a dinnerware piece has been fired correctly at high temperatures there should not be noticeable lead leaching. If the dinnerware is not used to store acidic foods, there should be not a problem.
Home Lead Tests
Home lead test kits test for surface lead only. They may detect surface lead on dishware and a positive test indicates a hazard, but since the test may not detect lower but still significant lead levels, a negative result is no guarantee that the dishware is safe.
What Guidelines Can We Follow?
I read on several different sites that glass and stoneware, unless decorated, are generally lead-free.
Generally, I feel more comfortable eating from plates manufactured in Europe and the USA, and would avoid dinnerware from Asia, Mexico, and Central America.
Corelle, Anchor Hocking, and Pyrex, not decorated, may be fine. I learned that not all whites are safe. The transparent glaze may contain lead.
I said generally because I learned while surfing the web that Pfaltzgraff, which until recently was made in the USA and now is manufactured elsewhere, does contain lead and that their Villa Della Luna ware and Nautica J Class have been recalled.
Several manufacturers now offer dinnerware made without lead and promote "lead-free" while selling their dishes.
- I read that the Homer Laughlin China Company’s new Fiesta line does not contain cadmium or lead, and as a bonus, it is designed and manufactured in the USA. According to their website, in the early eighties, Homer Laughlin began to produce lead-free china. Using lead-free glazes and a vitrified china body, Fiesta was reintroduced in new and updated colors.
- Denby (England) claims "No lead or cadmium is used during the manufacturing process of any Denby product." However, a reader informed me that Denby's products are now manufactured in China, so I crossed Denby off my list.
- Hartstone Pottery (USA) tells consumers "all body, glaze and paint raw materials are lead and cadmium free."
- Sengware (USA) is 100% lead and cadmium free and has modern colors and designs. However, Sengware is now out of business since I originally published this article.
- Terra Keramik (Switzerland) says theirs contain zero lead and cadmium. I read where Germany is the only country that can produce lead-free glass. Interestingly, Terra Keramik imports their clay and their platinum from Germany.
- Emile Henry (manufactured in France) states that "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." ** see reader's comment below! Her Emile Henry tested high in lead!
- Apilco and Pilluvuyt, (manufactured in France) are also supposed to be lead and cadmium-free. I read somewhere that Williams Sonoma tests all of their dinnerware, glassware and other items used for serving food to ensure that they meet FDA and California Proposition 65 requirements for lead and cadmium.
- Emerson Pottery is based in the US and follows green practices.
- This American commercial manufacturer, HF Coors, states that their dinnerware is lead- and cadmium-free.
- Lead and cadmium free certified coffee mugs from Mug Revolution.
What Is California Prop 65?
Why is it referred to specifically?
I think it's because it's the toughest requirement out there (in the US, anyway) so it's "the" one to adhere to. Here's some info I found on the web:
Proposition 65 is a California voter initiative passed in 1986 requiring the Governor to publish a list of chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects and other reproductive harm. The list of "Prop 65 Chemicals" currently contains over 700 chemical entries and is updated quarterly.
Prop 65 requires that "No person in the course of doing business shall knowingly and intentionally expose any individual to a chemical known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity without first giving clear and reasonable warning to such individual."
Generally, I guess the safest thing to do is avoid all porcelain, ceramic and stoneware and use glass as much as possible, or trust one of these manufacturers listed above and go buy all new dinnerware.
If You're a Mosaic Artist, Be Careful
Oh, and back to the original quest, all of us mosaic artists who use broken china in our creations should take some precautions (gloves, masks) and be more aware of the dangers when working with lovely old vintage plates and colorful imports.