“Why is it a problem that some dishes have Lead on the OUTSIDE?”
I get some variation of this question nearly every single day:
- “I don’t understand — what’s the problem? The Lead is only on the outside.”
- “Why does it matter, if the Lead does not touch the food inside the dish?”
- “Does the Lead somehow seep through to the inside of the dish?!”
Here are some answers:
I have answered these questions separately in many comments on my blog (and also addressed them within the text of several posts here on the blog), but I decided to dedicate an additional post just to this group of questions (and the answers) — so it will be easy for folks to share with their friends and communities.
And so here are the reasons why it is a problem even though “the Lead is only on the outside” of the dish:
- Scientists have studied this and concluded that it is concerning and confirmed that it presents potential health risks to have Lead painted decorative elements on the outside of decorated glassware (link here).
- The Lead-painted coating on these vintage glassware items [and even on some newer examples!] wears off over time, with use and age (see images below of pieces with varying degrees of wear on the exterior paint).
Continue reading below the image.
- The Lead-painted coating wears off in your dishwasher.
- The Lead-painted coating can wear off (in the form of micro-dust) onto your hands whenever you touch it.
- When that coating is wearing off – where is it going? It is going into your kitchen environment, your food prep environment and in some cases, directly into your food.
- We know this coating is wearing off because dust wipe samples (samples sent to a Laboratory) have been done showing that unsafe levels of Lead micro-dust come off of these products under normal conditions. [I will post a video of a dust wipe sample being done on one of these pieces shortly, so you can see what that looks like!]
Continue reading below the images.
- These items are washed, dried, and often then stacked on a shelf when clean. When they are stacked, the outside of one nestles against the inside of the one below it; the user does not normally re-wash an item when they take it out of the cabinet for use, so there is a significant potential for Lead dust from the outside of one item to wear into the inside of another and then have that item be used immediately for food use purposes (without being washed before use, because it is assumed to be clean).
Continue reading below the image.
- When you stack them in this way, they can often stick (and are a bit tricky to pull apart), further exacerbating the potential damage to the coating.
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This image (below) is another example of how Lead painted coatings on these items wear. The bowl in this picture has been placed right under a light so you can see the color variations across one bowl (a bowl that was originally all the same color with the same depth of paint coverage.)
Please note the shading variations and the visible nicks in the paint. Where the orange is darker the Lead level is much higher (when tested with an XRF instrument.) Where the orange is lighter – and appears to be glowing on the lower half of the bowl, more paint has worn off and so more light shows through. In those worn areas the XRF readings are normally lower than where the color is darker and thicker and more consistent (like closer to the top lip of the bowl). In this way we could actually quantify (to some degree, if we wanted to) how much lead actually has worn off of each piece (if we could measure the total weight of the paint only for these pieces when they were new, and thereby determine how much is missing on any given piece).
- If you hold these items up to the light – with the light shining down into the middle of the item (like in the image above) – you can clearly see the wear pattern on the dish (and sometimes even large portions of the coating are completely missing; the worn coating is the Lead particulates that have worn off into your environment over the years / decades.
- While it sometimes happens, it is not often easy to identify if a single exposure source of micro-particulate Lead (this is literally invisible Lead) – like a particular dish – was the likely source of chronic or acute incidental Lead-poisoning* (or may have contributed to a particular individual’s Elevated Blood Lead Level). The concern here is not for a potential acute Lead exposure but for any particular dish (or household item) contributing to the combined impact from all sources of exposure to micro-particulate Lead [Lead that can slowly build up in your body and cause damage to your bones, teeth, tissue and organs – including your brain – over time].
- Science and regulatory agencies are all in full agreement that there is no safe level of lead exposure — that even trace levels of Lead exposure (previously thought to be harmless) are now recognized as potentially quite harmful to humans.
- Replacement modern Lead-free glass storage and cookware options are inexpensive and easy to find, so it seems like a no-brainer to remove the Lead from your home if you can.
Continue reading below the image.
This is just one Lead-free option, from a brand I have tested:
- On a more philosophical level, I invite you to reconsider the sentimental value you have imbued to these mass-manufactured toxic products that so many people have in their homes.
- Please read this post (about how little Lead it takes to poison a human) to give you a deeper understanding of this problem.
Fundamentally, Lead does not belong in our kitchens or on our dining tables. If we do just one quick and easy thing to get Lead out of our lives, I would recommend starting with getting any and all Lead out of the kitchen. It just takes a microscopic amount of Lead to poison a human, and there are a plethora of inexpensive Lead-free options out there, so defending the use of Lead in any of our kitchens seems ridiculous to me (the mother of children with permanent brain damage from being Lead-poisoned as babies). If you can avoid Lead, why wouldn’t you?
Additionally, folks question why this isn’t a problem from a regulatory perspective. They often argue that “these items MUST be safe — because they were allowed to be mass-manufactured by a large, well-known, reputable company”. My answer to that is as follows:
- In most cases, there literally were no regulatory standards at the time these items were manufactured.
- During the period after which regulatory standards were put in to place, these standards only governed the insides of dishes (not thinking ahead to potential impacts of the toxic coatings of the exteriors of dishes and other functional cookware).
- The only current regulatory standard is STILL just regulating the presence of toxicants on the inside of dishware — so the exterior can still be hazardous!
- The leach-testing standards currently in effect today do not take into account the actual practical lifespan of many of these products (normally many decades) and they only evaluate whether or not a dish or pot or pan is actively leaching toxic heavy metals from the inside AND only if it is leaching heavy metals at the time of manufacture. It is obvious when looking at products like these that are one or more decades old – that merely meeting leach-testing standards at the time of manufacture is not relevant to the potential for these items to poison the user when the items are no longer new.
As always, thank you for reading and for sharing my posts. Please let me know if you have any questions.
*I have – in fact – worked with several families of Lead-poisoned children for whom a single dish with a high-Lead paint or coating (used on a regular basis) was identified as the likely source of a child’s poisoning. Here are two stories that with examples of that. Story 1. Story 2.
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VERY helpful article.
Tamara, this is one of the most important articles you’ve ever published. I will be bookmarking it for future educational purposes. Thank you!
Thank you so much for this excellent explanation of how lead leaks out
Thank you so much for your excellent and informative reply. I so appreciate the information. I have thrown all my apple dishes away but am now questioning if some other dishes in my cupboard are toxic . How do I know? Is there a book that lists this dishes?
Makes me wonder if I should throw everything out. Thank you so much!
Roxana Rock says
Thank you so much for this it’s so helpful. I am always sharing your work or online groups etc in the hope others will become more aware of these things
Thank you Roxanna! I truly appreciate it. We’re all part of this movement.
Nell Covington says
I have a lot of Corning and Pyrex bowls with glass lids that I use to cook in the oven and microwave. So far I have not been able to find clear glass oven-safe bowls with glass lids to use ( I rarely use aluminium foil). Any suggestions?
Nell Covington says
Opps. My brain is in a fog today…forgot to add my thanks for the article. I have one of those orange Pyrex bowls that is very worn looking. I’m thinking I should get rid of it, at least. All the others are in great shape, but I would replace them if I could find something else with the glass lids. Anyway, thanks for the work you do.
Pyrex and other manufacturers make clear glass oven safe bowls with clear glass lids. An example
is the 3-quart clear glass casserole with lid. There are others by different manufacturers. Search the ‘net.
Maria Pronske says
Hi! I was wondering if all Franciscan Ivy dishes that are printed on the back of them says ok in Dishwasher, Oven& Microwave. What is their lead in it? The other plates say nothing . I guess that those plates must have a high level of lead. Thanks!
Linda Wright says
1) I have the Pyrex glass measuring cups with the red markings on the outside that I bought within the last 4 years. The red doesn’t seem to wear off. I’m wondering if it’s safe to use those. I wash them by hand. Sometimes though I use very hot water to rinse them.
2) And also, I have recently bought Pyrex glass storage containers, some of them have a bluish/turquoise color on the rim and others I bought are grayish around the rims (just like the Anchor Hocking plates that I use). Since they are both purchased at my grocery store in the last couple of years, would both be lead free and non toxic? Or are the bluish rims telling me they are toxic.
I would like to that answer as well.. Did you receive a response?
Wow… this has me rethinking the pyrex blue bowl I have an also the blue tinted mason jars… though it is in the glass and not painted on the outside…still, why the colors. I know you touch on that elsewhere too, but I also drink from the same ’96 graduation coffee mug every morning and hot water at night and it it painted with “Class of ’96” in all neon colors on the outside. I handle that every single day. Do you know how I can get this tested? Blue bowls and dishes are out today! Before I throw my wife’s and my mug away, I sure would love to know if it is toxic or not. Thanks for all you do! You are a real blessing!
Andrea Ludema says
Wow, this makes me so sad to know that so many of these dishes that many families, including mine, have used for years are dangerous! What is the best way to dispose of these?
Hi Andrea – here’s my post about that!
John Hulsmann says
I am not seeing the connection to enameled cast iron that may have lead (or cadmium) in the OUTer colors like apparently Staub admitted a little Cadmium-selenite (or other second word chemical) in the reds, yellow, and orange exterior colors. How does the EXTerior enamel, fired at super high temperatures the same as painted on leaded paint that comes off and not safely rewashed when put away and then used again. What is the connection to the enameled cast iron?? Thanks!
Perhaps read this post for some additional context:
Also this post: https://tamararubin.com/2017/01/cadmium-concerns/
Cynthia Kelly says
Hi Tamara, if mugs or dishes are washed in the dishwasher, do you think there could be lead permanently in the dishwasher that could then leach onto your other dishes in different washes? In other words, anything with lead is no longer being used in the dishwasher but is the dishwasher now ruined because something with lead was previously washed in there?
I would also like to know this! Are the other dishes and baby bottles permanently contaminated from lead if they were washed in the dishwasher together?
John Hulsmann says
Hi Tamara, have you ever found the sources or other info you said you had that better addresses my question about how lead (or other metals) in enameled cast iron pots that is not just printing, that is on the OUTside enamel and not the different inner enamel inside the pots? Thanks!
I am not 100% understanding your question, John.
I feel utterly sick right down to pit of stomach with the sodding companies and factory owners not to mention governments allowing any form of nasties into products. My blood boils to think how we are fooled, harmed our kids and animals through total ignorance. We are all so naive and gullible and at the mercy of manufacturers etc. I feel so upset I could scream blue murder. Companies I wonder if you can sleep at night as one day you may have to answer for your actions. The sad part is they know not to let there families use these products tho allow us to poison ours. All for money making the usual problem through life. I now keep all products I buy plain Jane in appearance. I suppose I should have listened to my grandmother she said to me pretty people and things bring problems.
Hi Diane! Thank you for commenting. I love your comment – and that’s my sentiment exactly…. for those of us of a certain age, our grandmothers really knew best!
I have white Corelle dishes (bowls and plates) that have just thin lines of blue and grey around the rims, also some with a brown line. Are they safe to use? They were my mother’s so they’ve been used for a long time.
Julie Sabatino says
Thank you for this website and all of your hard work. I found out about your site from the YouTube channel Traditional Cooking School by Gnowfglins. I will definitely be sharing your site to everyone I know. My grandmother and mother have several of the colored Pyrex bowls with handles that also had clear lids. Such a shame they are contaminated as they are so practical and they are not made anymore. Do you think there is a way the outer finish could be professionally and safely removed and replaced with a lead free colorless one? It’s just a wild thought because some of my grandmother’s bowls are really nice. I am now also concerned as I am using dishes I given as a wedding gift that belonged to my grandparents (Nortake) the pattern is Palos Verde from the early to mid 60s. I am now worried I’ve been using high lead dishes all these years! Please keep up the good work. What you do is very important.
Thanks for this education in lead. Did you know about lead in pill fillers. Look at their allowable rates in microcrystalline cellulose
fabiola arancibia says
What brand of dinnerware do you recommend that’s lead free is Mora ceramics a good brand. Can you add a link to recommendations thank you
I have so many vintage dishes including a collection of Pyrex and Corelle. Are they still ok to have in the home as decor if not using them for cooking and using?