Introduction (for those new to this website):
Tamara Rubin is a multiple-Federal award-winning independent advocate for childhood Lead poisoning prevention and 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).
If you are here because of our PSA campaign on the NYC Subways, you are probably new here! Please read the article below, but here are some links with additional info, too!
- Lead Safe Mama, LLC’s “About” Page
- Lead Safe Mama, LLC’s Business Model
- A post explaining WHY we decided to do a PSA campaign (for consumer goods safety and childhood Lead poisoning prevention) in the New York City Subways
- A page for press inquiries (folks wanting to do a news story about the issues raised by this PSA campaign)
- How YOU can participate in and support the work of the Lead Safe Mama community
- Upcoming NYC PSAs we would like to do (along with our funding needs to continue and expand this project)
- The documentary feature film on childhood Lead poisoning, directed and produced by Tamara Rubin
Click any of the images below to read about the Lead levels and concerns for the particular glass pictured, or continue reading below for a broader discussion on the issue of Lead-painted collectible glassware used in homes across the United States (and the world) today.
Updated: May 24, 2023 — Wednesday
The Concern for Lead (& Other Toxicants) in Decorated Glassware
Authorities in the United States and Europe have known for decades (and possibly longer) that it is unsafe to decorate the exterior of glassware with paints that contain high levels of metallic neurotoxicants (e.g. Lead, Cadmium, Mercury, Arsenic, and Antimony).
In 2008, the United States Government passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. While this legislation does not regulate the presence of Lead (and other toxicants) in ALL glassware or dishes, it specifically regulates the presence of Lead (and other toxicants) in “items intended for use by children.” This legislation stipulates that the intent behind the design and manufacture of the item is key. So while a company may make a public statement claiming that their colorful glassware with cartoon characters on it is “not intended for use by children,” the functional/ likely/ anticipated intent that this glassware would in fact be used by children in homes in the United States is relevant in determining the intended audience — and thus, whether this law might apply to any particular product.
Unfortunately, items manufactured before 2008 are not covered by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, even though there are many examples of confirmed unsafe items manufactured in recent years prior to that date. Due to this lack of regulatory oversight of glassware, we now have vintage* glassware that is still used in homes today — and even newer glassware — that does not meet the current safety standards for items intended for use by children.
*The term “vintage” is commonly understood to mean 20 years old, or older.
Section #1) “How much Lead is ‘too much’ Lead?”
The CPSIA regulates that Lead content in paint or coatings (including on the outside of decorative glassware) on items intended for use by children must not exceed 90 ppm.
Cadmium is considered toxic at levels of 40 to 75 ppm or higher (depending on which of the multiple regulatory standards you use) and most of this glassware also has paint that tests positive for significant levels of Cadmium.
In the examples of glassware shown at the top of this page (which is not an exhaustive list, merely a grouping of some of the more popular examples still used in homes today), the measured Lead levels often exceed 100,000 ppm — which is more than 1,000 times more than the 90 ppm legal limit today.
Cadmium levels are also consistently found to be in the range of 1,000 to 5,000 ppm (or even higher depending on the color of the paint).
What these numbers indicate is that this glassware is incredibly toxic and should not be used by humans (especially children).
Section #2) “But it’s only on the outside — I don’t understand how this could poison me!”
Numerous scientific studies — including this study from Plymouth, England in 2017 (link) — have repeatedly confirmed that even though the paint on these items is normally “only on the outside” of the product, the toxicant (heavy metal) content of this paint still has a significant opportunity to cause harm. For context, it is essential to understand how it has long been known that Lead is such an incredibly potent neurotoxin, and that it literally only takes a microscopic* amount to poison a human being.
While I have written in detail about the concern for the potential impacts of Lead on the outside of painted glassware (link with the full discussion), here it is in short: given it takes just a microscopic amount of Lead to poison a human, the invisible particles that wear off of glasses with normal use (and onto the hand, lips, or into the kitchen environment where dishes are stored/cleaned) are enough to significantly contribute to background Lead (Cadmium, Mercury, and Arsenic) exposure levels for a human being. It is these persistent background levels of toxicants that create a foundation for future health impairments that we need to try and avoid. If there are known potential sources of exposure that we can avoid, we should try to avoid them — especially since unpainted/ undecorated clear glass toxicant-free glassware is inexpensive and easy to find (at Target, Walmart, Dollar Store, etc.). Here is a second article with a deeper discussion of the concern.
*Microscopic: it is not possible to see the tiny amount of Lead micro-dust necessary to poison a human with the naked eye, or without the aid of a microscope.
Section #3) “What should I do if I have been using these glasses — am I Lead-poisoned for sure?”
- First: stop using these glasses (both vintage and newer decorated/ collectible cartoon character glasses and similar painted/decorated glassware). Please also consider throwing them out in the trash, making sure they are broken, and that no-one can use them again in the future. While it is frustrating from an environmental perspective, these cannot be safely recycled, and they really cannot be kept safely as decor since someone may choose to use them for beverages in the future (not realizing they are unsafe). You can read more about that conundrum at this link.
- As a general rule of thumb, if the glassware was made before 2015, and if you can feel the paint on the outside of the glass with your finger (i.e. if it is rough to the touch, and slightly raised) it is likely high-Lead paint or high-Cadmium paint. Note: Cadmium is a known carcinogen. However, please do be aware that, exasperatingly, Lead-painted glassware is not illegal — even new decorated glassware may be painted with high-Lead paint! Here’s an example of a Totoro glass purchased new in 2021 that is painted with high-Lead paint.
- The health-related concern with items like these Lead-painted glasses is not about whether using a single glass like this will poison you to a measurable level of Lead-exposure with a single use. The concern is for your aggregate exposure to heavy metals. This regards your long-term exposure over time to trace levels of toxicants, including Lead and Cadmium, that comprise your total body-burden and can be future triggers for a host of health problems, including reproductive disorders, fertility issues, birth complications, chronic inflammation, arthritis, immunological impairment, as well as increased risk of kidney-disease, heart-disease, early onset Alzheimer’s, dementia/memory impairment, and cancer, among others. You can read more about that on this link.
- If you or your children have been using these glasses for beverages in your home, especially if you have been using them on a regular basis, ask your doctor about getting a Blood Lead Level (BLL) test immediately. Here’s a link with more information about BLL testing.
- If glasses like this are your only potential source of exposure (for example, if you don’t live in a pre-1978 home with potential Lead paint hazards), a standard BLL test may not come back positive for Lead. This is because (depending on the lab/test), the low threshold of detection of many modern tests is often too high to detect low Blood Lead Levels from a relatively low Lead exposure from a single source like this. Nonetheless, chronic, persistent exposure over time contributes to total body burden, and can have profound health impacts.
- Regardless of the accuracy level at the testing lab you may use, if you have not had a BLL test recently (or ever), it is also always good to have a “baseline” BLL test result for yourself and every member of your family — especially if you live in an urban area with persistent Lead hazards in the environment, like New York City. Even if the low threshold of detection is high (rather than results such as “BLL = 0.4 µg/dL,” or “BLL = 1.2 µg/dL,” the lowest result the lab or test used can specify is “BLL = less than 3.0”, or “BLL = less than 2.0”), you will at least know that your Blood Lead Level is not above that threshold. This is a complicated sub-concept of the issue and you can read more here and here.
- Getting a current BLL test is advice for people of all ages — not just “children under 6 years old,” which is a relatively arbitrary cut-off point the CDC has historically set for Lead exposure screening.
- You can look your glasses up here on the Lead Safe Mama website by entering a few keywords in the search bar, or by scrolling through all of the articles that come up when you click this link. However, if you do not find your exact painted/decorated vintage cartoon character glasses with correlating test results, given that the painted coatings used on the vast majority of these character glasses contain extremely high levels of neurotoxicants, it is safer to assume that yours are toxic/unsafe and should be destroyed. If you want to send us your glass for testing and reporting in support of this initiative (and because you do not see its test results listed here on LeadSafeMama.com), please check out this link.
- Bigger picture considerations:
- As consumers, we need to ask our government to make the use of neurotoxicant-laden paints on glassware illegal (in all applications and for all intended users — not just babies and young children). Unfortunately, we do not yet have the level of general public awareness required for generating the political will to make this happen. Our intention is that this PSA campaign will help generate a broader level of awareness as a first step.
- We also need to hold companies accountable for their legacy (vintage) products — specifically that they issue public (CPSC) recalls for this vintage glassware so it is at least public record that these are unsafe when used with beverages (and especially unsafe for children’s use). One way to do this is writing to the manufacturers of these Lead-painted glassware products, demanding that they initiate recalls on their Lead-painted legacy products.
Section #4) “But isn’t Lead paint in homes the real problem? Isn’t a concern for Lead in consumer goods misplaced, relatively?”
The short answer is, “yes!” The big issue is Lead paint in homes! (My own children were acutely poisoned by Lead paint in our historic home in Portland, Oregon — you can watch the documentary film I produced and directed at this link).
Unfortunately, most people do not know and/or understand how pervasive that problem is, and are often not willing or able to spend the money necessary to test their home or confront their landlords about testing their rented home. Concerns over possible eviction and homelessness (in response to potentially confronting a landlord over the issue of Lead paint in a home) often trump a family’s concern for potential Lead.
Most young families simply do not know about or fully understand the profound impacts that Lead can have on their lives (and the extent of the long-term costs surrounding those impacts). Learning about Lead in consumer goods is an easier introduction to the overarching issue of identifying and eliminating potential environmental Lead exposure sources across the board. Approaching the issue this way is less confronting than having to consider the implications of Lead in a family’s home itself — particularly before the family is really ready or able to commit to the financial and life-upheaval costs of confronting that. And so, we feel that looking at it through a consumer goods lens is a good first step to help people learn about the issue.
I often say that the opportunity to learn about toxicity in consumer goods is a “gateway drug” that gets people involved with the issue. My husband hates it when I use that term, but I think it really is a good descriptor as the issue of Lead in consumer goods is an easy introduction to the larger issue of the legacy of Lead in our built environment, setting people on a path of awareness and education from which they cannot easily turn back (i.e. just forget about and ignore)!
Once parents learn there are neurotoxic contaminants in household items that they own and use every day in their homes, they typically come around to considering that this may, in fact, be a problem that impacts their family (and specifically their children).
In response to this new level of awareness, they begin looking at their home, their children’s schools, and other buildings they spend time in as possible potential sources of Lead exposure to their children as well. The normal precipitated response is considering getting their children tested for Lead, which is the best possible outcome (increasing the odds that the specific child will potentially be protected from Lead exposure due to early detection and also increasing the available statistical data for scientific studies of the problem — data which will help in inspiring legislative change to protect future generations of children).
Section #5) What are the Goals of This PSA Campaign?
“Why do a PSA Campaign in the NYC subways?”
I have been reporting about the concern for Lead paint and Leaded glazes used on food-use consumer goods ever since I first became trained and certified in using XRF instrumentation to accurately detect and quantify metallic toxicants (heavy metals) in consumer goods back in 2009.
My Lead-poisoning prevention advocacy work has included crafting legislation to protect children from Lead exposure, and attempts at getting that passed (starting in 2010). Since 2016 — through the work of Lead Safe Mama, LLC (officially incorporated in January of 2018) — we have aggressively been pursuing product recalls, using the mechanisms available with the CPSC, and other ways of encouraging corporations to be held accountable for making toxic products. Through all of these efforts (over the past 13+ years) we have learned (relatively definitively) that the legislative process in the United States is “broken” — and early on we decided that swifter and more impactful progress would be made in this issue through greatly-increased public awareness.
This New York City Subway PSA campaign is a new strategy toward generating public awareness. Goals include:
- Encouraging citizens to get their blood tested for Lead (regardless of age, gender, socio-economic status or other demographic factors.)
- Increasing media coverage of the issue of Lead (& other toxicants) in consumer goods & the need for childhood Lead poisoning prevention.
- Inspiring legislative change (the creation of new legislation or enforcement of existing legislation) for consumer protection and enforcement – legislation that is not influenced by industry, but founded in concerns for human health.
- Influencing the Consumer Product Safety Commission in the direction of issuing highly publicized recall notices for all Lead-contaminated / Lead-painted / Lead-containing children’s feeding products.
Section #6) In Conclusion… & Thank You, for Taking the Time
Lead paint is not just found on and around our homes. Lead poisoning is not a problem that was “solved” with the 1978 ban on Lead paint, nor is it a problem that will be solved with the current infrastructure plan. To actually solve this problem, we need to start with greater public awareness. Public awareness will, in turn, generate the political will necessary to create a world in which no children are poisoned by Lead, ever.
Thank you, for taking the time to read this article; please consider copying the link and sharing it on your social media channels (especially in any social media parenting groups you are part of)!
If you are a media reporter (tv, radio, internet, podcasts, etc.) and are interested in writing a story about this issue — please be in touch (link)! The Lead Safe Mama online community consists of more than 100,000 families who are members of our social media community and have been regular readers of this website (LeadSafeMama.com/TamaraRubin.com) in the past 12 months. These people make up a small part of the more than 2.2 million unique visitors to this website around the globe during this same period — many of whom are parents of Lead-poisoned children. We would be happy to put you in touch with several of these families who are willing to share their personal stories in the service of helping raise awareness around this generally superficially and inaccurately covered issue (when it is covered at all). With your help we may finally solve this problem — as we are now well into the fourth century of what has been called “the perpetual secret epidemic” of Lead-poisoning on this continent (see 1786 Benjamin Franklin letter here).
For more about the context surrounding this issue (including the politics behind it) please watch the preview screener of the documentary feature film I directed and produced about childhood Lead poisoning, linked here.
Mother of acutely Lead poisoned children
Owner — Lead Safe Mama, LLC
Children’s Health Advocate
The pieces related to this campaign include:
- Lead-painted short baby bottles
- Lead-painted tall baby bottles
- Dishes with high-Lead glaze
- Lead-painted cartoon character (collectible) glassware
- Press Inquiries page
- Test results for all items pictured in the campaign
- Article with in-depth discussion as to why we have decided to undertake this as a PSA Campaign with printed panels in the NYC Subway