Q. Hi! Thank you for all you do!! Are the LeadCheck® test swabs from Home Depot sufficient enough to test my dishware? Also, even though Fiestaware says “Lead free: it could still have Cadmium in it, correct? Thank you and I follow all your work!
A. The short of it is that the LeadCheck® test swabs (while a terrific tool for testing for lead in paint) are not intended for nor effective in testing for Lead in most dishware.
LeadCheck® was specifically designed to test for lead in paint.
Some dishware is “low-fire” and may react to the LeadCheck® swabs in the same way as paint. As an example, the very popular vintage Franciscan Apple/Ivy/Rose/Cherry patterns will often test positive with a LeadCheck® swab.
However, most dishes are “high-fire” ceramic, and even if they contain a very high level of lead they may not test positive with a swab.
The only other common exceptions to this are the exterior colored designs on vintage Pyrex (and similar products) and the painted on decal type decorations on many new and vintage mugs and glasses (check out this study here) – those also frequently test positive for lead with a LeadCheck® swab, however if they test negative with a swab it does not mean the item does not have lead.
The only effective and consistently useful way to test dishware for Lead is with an XRF instrument [outside of a (potentially destructive) lab test – in which the item is sometimes pulverized and/or subsequently subjected to strong acids or incinerated to determine the total lead content—a process which has its own potential serious drawbacks, apart from the potential damage to or destruction of the item.] Consider the following scenario: very high-lead content concentrated only in some particular (otherwise lead-free) dish’s deteriorating painted surface coating could wind up reading like negligible lead content—if expressed solely as a percentage of that item’s total mass!
XRF testing will easily and quickly tell you if the item has Lead, and how much Lead the item has [although even an XRF test will have no way to confirm whether the lead is bioavailable and/or leaching into your food].
Since it’s not a simple (nor cheap) task to get your hands on an XRF, as consumers we need to demand that all of our dishware has NO LEAD, so that we don’t have to police the industry and test every single dish ourselves (which is simply not practical, given an XRF can cost tens of thousands of dollars.) That said, I test as many dishes as I can and post the results both here and on Facebook, so you may be able to check out the index for the site (click here) to see if I have already tested your particular brand/ pattern/ vintage for Lead—and at least that is a starting point!
I am working with parents around the country to host testing parties once a month or so, and if you want to chip in and help with the rental cost of the XRF you can send in a few items to be tested. To learn more about participating and getting your own stuff tested – check out this link.
Regarding Cadmium, yes… much of the Fiestaware I have tested has been positive for Cadmium, and sometimes even arsenic (depending on the color.) You can see some of the Fiestaware items I have tested here. I think as a guideline you could assume that same or similar colors may have similar results to the items I have tested (for the newer/ newly manufactured Fiestaware pieces.)
Thank you for writing.
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For #LeadFree and #LeadSafe options for your home and kitchen, please click here.