Introduction (for those new to this website):
Tamara Rubin is a multiple-Federal-award-winning independent advocate for consumer goods safety, and a documentary filmmaker. She is also a mother of Lead-poisoned children (her sons were acutely Lead-poisoned in 2005). Since 2009, Tamara has been using XRF testing (a scientific method used by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission) to test consumer goods for toxicants (specifically heavy metals — including Lead, Cadmium, Mercury, Antimony, and Arsenic). All test results reported on this website are science-based, accurate, and replicable. Items are tested multiple times to confirm the test results for each component tested. Tamara’s work was featured in Consumer Reports Magazine in February of 2023 (March 2023 print edition).
Published: July 21, 2018
Question: Are Blue Willow Dishes Lead Free?
Answer: No. In fact most of them have incredibly high levels of lead (in a range that I would consider as not safe to eat off of.) Please read on for more information about lead found in examples of Blue Willow dishes.
We have several Blue Willow articles up on the Lead Safe Mama website right now, however this particular post highlights the XRF test results for a Johnson Brothers Blue Willow Plate, c. 1980s Made In England. The years on the backmark (image below) include both “Since 1883” and 1940.
This dish (see a larger image below) tested positive at the following levels when tested with an XRF instrument:
- Lead (Pb): 36,600 +/- 1,400 ppm
- Mercury (Hg): 83 +/- 53 ppm
- Cadmium (Cd): ND (non-detect/negative)
- Arsenic (As): ND (non-detect/negative)
- Barium (Ba): 465 +/- 90 ppm
For context, the amount of lead that is considered toxic in a newly manufactured item intended for use by children (including dishes intended to be used by children) is anything 90 ppm or higher in the glaze or anything 100 ppm or higher in the substrate (the underlying clay or porcelain). Dishware made before 2010 is not generally regulated for total lead content as detectable with an XRF. Most vintage china is high lead as a result and may not be safe to eat off of. Even newer china that is not “made specifically to be used by children” may test positive for high levels of lead when tested with an XRF instrument.
Since the backmark of this dish also says “making fine tableware for over 100 years” (with the start date of the company being 1883) we can at least assume these were likely manufactured in 1984 or later (which is also consistent with the “Dishwasher, Freezer and Microwave Safe” statement also printed on the back.)
Unfortunately, Blue Willow plates are an incredibly popular and collectable pattern.
Please note that nearly ALL of the Willow pattern and nearly ALL of the Johnson Bros. china that I have ever tested have been very high lead. I even tested some in the past year that the owner told me she had purchased fairly recently at Ross (and similar outlet stores). These were also very high lead.
While I cannot be sure if these are leaching at all, with levels this crazy-high, I would never use these in my home [and in the event that someone served me food on them while I was visiting, I would politely request an alternate plate or dish (sans incredibly-high levels of neurotoxic heavy metals)!]
Additional Reading That May Be Of Interest
- Please read more about the concern for lead in pottery here.
- To see more “Johnson Bros.” pieces we have tested and reported on, click here.
- To see all of the Willow pieces we have tested and reported on, click here.
As always, please let me know if you have any questions, I will do my best to answer them personally as soon as I have a moment.
As an independent advocate for childhood lead poisoning prevention and consumer goods safety public support of this work is crucial for me to continue doing what I do. Please click here to see all the different ways you can help.
Owner – Lead Safe Mama, LLC