“Emile Henry” brand mixing bowl with yellow exterior glaze and white interior glaze, c. 2014:
Highest reading: 1,647 ppm Lead.
Purchased New (c. 2014) at Williams Sonoma.
Note: Many Emile Henry products are sold and marketed as “Lead-free”
XRF TEST RESULTS:
1) white interior glaze: 1,647 ppm lead
2) unglazed (bottom of bowl): 80 ppm lead
3) yellow exterior glaze: 365 ppm lead
While this particular bowl is not marked or labeled “Lead-Free” many products from this company are.
When I spoke with this company to discuss their “Lead-free” labeling it was clear that the representative I spoke with (like those at many other companies) misunderstood the testing they had done on their products. They had only done testing to determine if any lead was leaching at the time of manufacture. This test came back “safe” or “Lead-free”, using this one standard.
Leach testing does NOT test for actual total Lead content in the item. Lead content could in fact be high, as in the case of this bowl – but if it is not leaching at the time of manufacture, it will pass this test.
The Concern: While it is great for an item to pass leach-testing standards, advertising these items as “lead free” is neither appropriate nor accurate.
My greater concerns include:
- the fact that lead is getting into their manufacturing at those levels (which is far greater than “trace” levels), and
- while this product may have been determined to be compliant with leach testing standards and “safe” at the time of manufacture – what might happen down the line for an item with heavy usage? It’s possible that wear and tear on the item can cause surface deterioration which may eventually cause lead to be released into the food.
If you look to older items (vintage china for example) this is not uncommon (for a high polish finish to be deteriorating and releasing trace lead onto food contact surfaces.)
Finally, over the entire “life cycle” of a product containing lead, workers may be exposed to lead dust, it may wind up contaminating soil and children may be poisoned. [In the case of VERY high levels – in lead BASED items, like batteries for instance – this is already a global crisis.]
The principle here is: if it CAN be manufactured WITHOUT any lead [clearly already demonstrated to be achievable in the case of many brands of ceramics], from an ecological/environmental perspective alone, it is reasonable to encourage / demand that we hold ourselves to that standard in selecting the items that will play such a central and long-term role in our daily lives.
Is this bowl going to poison you? Highly unlikely.
Years from now is there a possibility that the coatings on this bowl could add to the aggregate environmental toxicity exposure of your family (as it begins to wear/ deteriorate)? Possibly.
Are there true lead-free alternatives out there? Yes. Definitely yes.
Is this company trying to do a good job to address the concern [given the limited information available to them]? Yes.
As always, thank you for reading and for sharing my posts.
Please let me know if you have any questions.