Originally published: March 10, 2019
Updated: December 28, 2019
Introduction: Tamara Rubin is an independent advocate for consumer goods safety and she is also a mother of Lead-poisoned children. She began testing consumer goods for toxicants in 2009 and was the parent-advocate responsible for finding Lead in the popular fidget spinner toys in 2017. She uses XRF testing (a scientific method used by the Consumer Product Safety Commission) to test consumer goods for contaminants including Lead, Cadmium, Mercury and Arsenic.
Vintage Yellow Plastic Tupperware Measuring Cups
I was so excited to test these vintage Tupperware items; I had heard they could be positive for very high levels of Lead, and have always discouraged people from using them — but had never personally tested any vintage Tupperware cookware items that were positive for toxicants…until…now! While I knew they might have Lead, I was frankly quite surprised to also find Arsenic! In follow up testing of other product colors (after originally posting this piece) I found other colors of vintage Tupperware products tested positive for Mercury and Cadmium as well!
Click here to read (and sign) the petition asking for Tupperware to formally respond to this concern!
Full XRF test results for the measuring cups pictured:
When tested with an XRF instrument, these “Daffodil Yellow” vintage (c, 1972) Tupperware measuring cups pictured here had the following readings:
- Lead (Pb): 2,103 +/- 41 ppm
- Arsenic (As): 250 +/- 28 ppm
- Chromium (Cr): 735 +/- 68 ppm
- Zinc (Zn): 463 +/- 18 ppm
- Nickel (Ni): 20 +/- 8 ppm
- Iron (Fe): 51 +/- 19 ppm
- Vanadium (V): 239 +/- 155 ppm
- Titanium (Ti): 10,100 +/- 400 ppm
How much Lead is too much Lead (in consumer goods?)
For Context: The amount of Lead that is considered toxic in a newly manufactured item intended for use by children is anything 90 ppm Lead or higher in the paint, finish or coating, or anything 100 ppm Lead (or higher) in the substrate. Federal agencies agree that there is no safe level of Lead exposure for humans, especially for children.
What is XRF Testing?
If you are new to this blog and want to learn more about XRF testing (which is one of the primary scientific testing methodologies used by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to test for Lead and other toxicants in modern consumer goods intended for use by children) click here and here.
Tests on these measuring cups were done multiple times, for a minimum of 60 seconds each. Metals not detected by the XRF in consumer goods mode are not listed. All consumer goods test results reported on this blog are replicable.
This is another good example that supports the consideration that “Made in the USA” does not automatically always mean Lead-safe (especially when it comes to vintage items!) Click here to see more “Made in the USA” items that I have tested.
Takeaway… Why is this a problem?
Especially in the absence of leach testing or other proof by the manufacturer that these items are safe, vintage functional food use items like this (that are positive for toxicants at high levels when tested with an XRF instrument) should be disposed of (or at least set aside until more information is available from the manufacturer.) Since originally posting this information many of my readers have followed up with Tupperware and it is my understanding (from what my readers have reported back to me) that Tupperware has not done leach testing for toxicants on these vintage items, as it was not required at the time they were manufactured.
Of additional concern is that many of these vintage Tupperware pieces have been kept in regular daily service for their 40+ years of life and may have considerable wear and deterioration as a result of decades of heavy regular use. So even if they were not leaching at the time of manufacture they may be leaching now – four or five decades later.
The bigger picture
While there may not be a single incident of Lead poisoning (or Arsenic poisoning for that matter) that can be traced to a kitchen item like this (because that is a difficult thing to track and study, given how many potential sources of toxicants can be found in our lives – in many things we use every day), with multiple toxicants present, at the levels found here, there is no defensible reason to save items like this and use them for food use purposes — when there are inexpensive toxicant-free alternatives readily available today in nearly every store that sells kitchen goods (and nearly every grocery store for that matter).
The concern to consider is not so much “whether or not these specific cups might be poisoning you” but more along the lines of “what are the potential sources of environmental toxicity in our lives [sources that together can create an aggregate negative impact on our health] and what simple things we can do to eliminate possible exposure sources, giving our families (and especially our children and our grandchildren) a better chance at a healthier life.”
This concern becomes even greater with some of the other Tupperware examples which (as I understand it) have been marketed by the manufacturer as safe for microwave use. Any time you are heating plastics that contain toxicants (especially if the contents of the vessel contains food that may be acidic in any way – like lemon juice, vinegar or tomato sauce) there is a greater potential for those toxicants to leach into the food.
“But I don’t use my vintage things, I just collect them!”
I specifically discourage collecting items like this merely for the sake of collecting as well (even if you set them aside as a collectable item only for display), because a child might play with them at some point in the future, and regardless of whether or not the potential negative health implications of Lead in vintage plastic (for example) has been studied at this point, it is not worth any potential risk.
Since publishing this post, one mother shared the following story with me: She has these exact measuring cups and she regularly gives them to her toddler to play with. Given he is a toddler and these cups are plastic, he likes to chew on them and they are now covered in bite marks. This is a terrific example of why we should not have items like this in our homes when there are readily available safer alternatives.
In general, please consider avoiding using any vintage kitchenware for food-use purposes in your home.
I get the following question a lot: “My mom says we grew up with these and we’re ‘fine‘ – how do I respond to that?” Click here to read my answer.
“What measuring cups do you use, Tamara?”
If you are looking for a specific recommendation for a new measuring cup choice, here’s an Amazon affiliate link to the measuring cups I use in my home: https://amzn.to/3pJ2Mur. Here’s a second (fancier / more expensive)choice that I came across recently that I really like: https://amzn.to/35JNnCf
As always, thank you for reading and for sharing my posts. When you share my posts I earn – very modest – advertising income that helps support the cost of my childhood Lead-poisoning prevention advocacy work and independent consumer goods testing and reporting.
Please let me know if you have any questions. I try to answer all questions personally, although with recent increased readership on my blog it may take me a while to respond!