Originally posted: October 10, 2019
Updated: December 28, 2019
Several months ago, a mom who lives nearly 3,000 miles away from where I live in Portland, Oregon contacted me to see if there was any chance I could come to her home to help her. She had just learned that her 13-year-old kiddo tested positive for a very high level of Lead (via a 24-hour urine test) and she was stumped as to what the exposure source could be.
The boy’s Lead test results are in the image below.
His Lead level was literally “off the chart.”
Once presented with these test results, the family examined their life and their home for potential sources of Lead — but could not determine the cause of the child’s poisoning. They live in a new-construction home, and none of the “regular suspects” are in their home [vintage toys, antique furniture, work- or hobby-related Lead dust tracked-in on a parent’s clothes/shoes, etc.]!
The child’s doctor said to his parents that with a level “as high as that” the only plausible explanation was that their son “was likely eating lead”, which mom knew was simply not the case. [Just about any mom would know if her son was eating Lead!
Her son had been sick since he was about two years old (so for nearly 12 years!) with a host of symptoms and cluster of related proposed diagnoses [his symptoms included arthritic joints – and he wasn’t yet 14 years old!] The mom shared with me that she was spending thousands of dollars on supplements, doctor visits and therapies – yet her kiddo did not seem to be getting better.
This was the first time any doctor had actually ever thought to test him for Lead.
I went to her home, and initially found just a few minor suspect things, but not much really. The Oriental-style carpet was positive for a low level of Lead – in the 300 ppm range. The leather sofa was also positive for a low level of lead (also about 300 ppm), which, I explained, I only felt would be terribly concerning if it were in a home with a very young child – who might be chewing on the leather (and was not likely to cause the very high levels of Lead the doctor had found in her child’s test results.)
Then we looked at her kitchen. Again, the home was new construction – no Lead hazards in the paint or construction materials were evident. In fact, when the paint in the home was tested (by multiple methods) it was completely negative for Lead.
But her dishes were another matter…
Continue reading below the image.
Mom showed me the dishes that her children ate and drank out of with every meal. These included some Mikasa plates (about 20 years old, purchased new, shortly after their wedding, in 2000) and a set of small crystal juice glasses, including the one pictured here. I asked her when her child last used these for a meal and her response was “20 minutes before you got here.”
When tested with an XRF instrument, the glass turned out to be very high-Lead-content Leaded crystal, and the simple white-glazed Mikasa dishes that he used every day also tested positive for a very high level of Lead (you can see them here at this link.) Together, it seemed that these two sources of exposure, items used daily by the boy – many times each day, were the most probable suspect/ contributing factors generating his acute (and chronic) Lead exposure. The exposure is acute because of the level of Lead the doctor found (shown in the test result above) and chronic because the exposure has been going on for many years. This is truly among the type of situations that I would classify as a worst-case-scenario.
The tragic irony is that each day mom would give her kiddo a glass of juice (or water) in this Leaded crystal glass to help him chase down the many supplements he took several times a day to combat his symptoms. She gasped when she realized this was the case.
When (together) we figured out – given the absence of any other obvious source – it was likely the plates and the crystal glasses that were causing his exposure, we both cried a bit.
This makes me furious. It makes me furious that companies can get away with creating high-Lead products that can potentially poison families. It makes me furious that there is no accountability. And it makes me furious that there is almost no public awareness about this concern.
It’s also maddening to me that all of the healthcare providers and other resources this mama contacted were not able to help her identify the – sadly, quite common – source of her son’s cluster of symptoms (Lead-poisoning), nor have the awareness or tools to look beyond the obvious for the source(es) — and that it took me (another mom of Lead-poisoned kiddos) visiting with her in person and seeing her home and evaluating her possessions (and walking through how her kids interact with her home and contents each day) to figure this out. There should be an army of us out there doing this (helping other moms protect their children!) How can we make that happen?
I cannot tell you how many times I have met very smart, well-intentioned, college-educated parents who had no idea that their crystal glasses might be as much as 50% Lead. It’s not part of our public consciousness as a concern – and the glassware industry has gotten away with this crime (a combination of ignorance + regulatory loopholes) for centuries, really. This has got to stop.
Here are the exact readings for the glass
When tested with an XRF instrument, the small juice glass used by the boy (the glass pictured here on this post) had the following reading set:
- Lead (Pb): 351,400 +/- 25,000 ppm [that’s 35% LEAD!]
- Bromine (Br): 113 +/- 43 ppm
- Zinc (Zn): 15,500 +/- 1,200 ppm
These three metals were the only metals detected in this cut crystal glass. [Note in the picture that the boy had actually etched the glass with his initials to mark it as his!] The amount of Lead that is considered unsafe (and illegal) in newly-manufactured items “intended for use by children” is anything 90 ppm Lead or higher in the paint, glaze or coating, or anything 100 ppm Lead or higher in the substrate (Leaded crystal would be considered a substrate). Dishware is not considered to be “an item intended for use by children” – and, as such, is exempt from this regulatory standard – UNLESS it is something expressly sold as an item for children (like baby dishes).
Please read more about the concern for Lead in crystal here.
Please never give your children ANYTHING in Leaded crystal [or fancy/ornate heavy glass items you suspect might be Leaded crystal]. I always advocate for removing any and all crystal items from the home, as you never know who might wind up using it for daily use – and thereby accidentally poison themselves. This includes “grandma’s wedding crystal” – you really don’t want to hand that stuff down to your kids; you don’t want to be responsible for the potential of poisoning your grandkids or great grandkids at some point in the future. Perhaps the Jewish tradition of smashing a glass during the wedding ceremony (with the glass contained in a non-permeable fully sealed bag to contain all the chips!) is something everyone should take up – as just one way to get these sorts of items out of the functional food-use spaces in our homes!
For some Lead-free glassware choices, click here.
Thank you for reading and for sharing my posts.
As always, please let me know if you have any questions.
have similar from turkey
and am now certain that’s over.
thanks for going as far as you needed to and figure it out.
You are a national hero, Tamara!
Bless you for finding the source of the lead poisoning of this young man. I pray that his health will improve now that the source of the lead poisoning can be removed. My question is, how can I tell whether a glass is made of plain glass versus being crystal?
How can I find out if my Pfaltzgraff pottery Or Noritake China dishes from the early 80’s have lead?
Hi Kathy – start here: https://tamararubin.com/2019/08/tamara-can-i-send-you-one-of-my-dishes-to-test-for-lead/
What is a good inexpensive (contradiction?) test kit for detecting lead in dishes, glassware, etc?
Wouldn’t all the supplements the child was taking be a possible means of exposure?
Thanks for commenting. Yes. But he was sick before taking the supplements, and the amount of lead exposure from the glass and the dish (link here to see the dish: https://tamararubin.com/2019/11/mikasa-ultima-hk-301-cameo-platinum-57500-ppm-lead-in-the-glaze-this-dish-was-a-likely-source-of-poisoning-of-a-child/) combined would likely be a much more significant exposure source than supplements.
Thanks for replying. I hope you can offer an update once enough time has passed to see a measurable difference in the boy’s lead levels. I really don’t understand why everyone isn’t routinely tested. Could have been caught so much sooner.
If I get an update that the family lets me share I will definitely do that – and yes, I fully agree! Everyone should be tested for Lead.
I have a lead crystal cake plate and candy dishes. Given you don’t put liquids in these, they are used only on special occasions, and you don’t eat from them directly, should they be considered unsafe?
Kimberly Landes says
Great sleuthing! And so terribly sad (and, YES, frustrating!) that that source(s) were hidden from understanding and (thus) detection for so many years. Such unfortunate and consequential circumstances!
Did the woman’s other children not drink from the same crystal juice glass(es) as the effected child (or not as regularly or consistently)? Was the possibility explored? Were the other children in the family not burdened with elevated blood lead levels??
Appreciate all the enlightenment.
Thank you much.
Great work! How is the boy doing now that the lead items were removed? Hope testing shows he has less lead.
This really just happened a few weeks ago. There is not yet a follow up story on this. Mom is following the comments on the post though if you have any advice or words of encouragement for her.
That poor family! I can’t imagine how she felt finding out the dishes were probably to blame. It should NOT be like this. Of course children use dishes! Even if you start them with plastic (which has it’s own issues) the whole point is to transition them to regular dinnerware. That’s part of growing up. The whole ‘only children’s dishes are regulated’ thing is unrealistic. Dishes are for everyone as long as you can use them properly. Not to mention adults are at risk of lead poisoning too so why not protect everybody? This makes me so angry but I am glad you were able to help this family; you are such a kind person! I wish there was one of you in every city. Best wishes for the family, hope her son is doing better!
Gwen Coley Christie says
I use corella (plain and I decorated) on a daily basis…no crystal glasses are used…got rid of all my old tupperwarehow do I find out how much lead is in my stuff? I ask because I just inherited a bunch of older plates etc from mom…and I know a lot if the items are from the 60’s.
Sara Langston says
I realize now that I have some dangerous crystal and “fine china” in my home. Do you have any test data on flat wear and/or silverware eating or serving utensils or dishes? I am thinking of my everyday forks, knives and spoons and also my sterling silver.
Thank you for your response and for your work.
There are many posts with information about Flatware. Please enter “Flatware” or “Silveware” or “Fork” or “Knife” in the search bar of the site to see some examples. There is a search bar on every page. In Mobile it is on the top of the website and on desktop it is on the right hand side of every page, except for the home page where it is on the bottom.
Thank you for commenting.
I would love to know if you have an update from the family!
What is a safe way to deal with these toxic items? Maybe write a blog post on such?
I think people selling it should have to warn buyers.
Hi Max – here’s my blog post about that:
Thanks for commenting!
Hi Tamara, We moved into a new house. They installed many chandeliers, I am not sure if any of them are crystal. Also, I bought a light for above my table that I later found out was leaded crystal. Can you please let me know if those are safe? If not, why? They wouldn’t be handled much, I know there is a breakage risk. Please let me know your thoughts.
Thank you so much,
You are such a noble soul Tamara. The effort you are putting in educating us and helping moms. I have switched to stainless steel dishes, cutlery, glasses, storage boxes in the kitchen in my house. Thanks to you
Heartbreaking for this family. You are doing important work. Thank you.
robin smith says
1) are Limoges dishes (from France: mft. names are Ahrenfeldt, Bernardaud, I. Pouyat, etc) with the gold rims – are these full of lead too?
2) how about Swedish crystal from Orrefors and Boda (a blown, totally clear crystal, not like Waterford which is called “leaded” in its name)? another danger?
Holly Hammarlund says
Can anyone tell me the cobalt blue, multisided Anchor Hocking glasses have lead? I love them, but will get rid of them. I need claification. Please.