You may be eating lead off of your plate

You may be eating lead off of your plate »Play Video
Experts have found lead in toys, lead in clothes and now we're even getting reports of lead in candy.

What about our dishes?

KOMO 4 Problem Solvers tested everyday dishes to find out what else we might be getting when we sit down to eat. The concern is the accumulation of lead in our bodies, especially for children.

The issue with ceramics is how much lead is seeping out of the paints and glazes.

We worry about what's on our plates, about too many carbs or too much fat. But we don't worry about what's in the dishes, especially lead being in them.

I tested ceramic dish ware -- a random assortment of plates, bowls, serving dishes, mugs and cups.

I first tested with the help of scientist Erika Schreder with the Washington Toxics Coalition. She used a special x-ray gun that measures lead and other toxic metals.

Nearly everything we x-rayed had high levels of lead.

One dinner plate registered nearly 20,000 parts of lead per million.

But guess what? According to the FDA, it's okay as long as the lead is sealed under the surface and can't get in your food.

But you can't tell that with an x-ray test. You need a lead test kit -- a swab test sold over the counter at many hardware stores. The swab turns pink or red if lead is present.

It turns out a lot of our dishes that tested high with the x-ray gun tested negative with the swab because all that toxic lead is sealed under the surface; no lead was leading out.

But that was not the case with a small imported bowl. The bowl has no protective seal on the outside and the swab turned deep, dark pink. The bowl was the type many people drink soup from, so their lips, food and liquid would be all over that paint.

I got the same positive result on the outer rim of my favorite mug. Acid from tea and coffee can bring out that lead.

The dinner plate that registered high levels of lead with the x-ray gun also turned the test swab pink, but not as deep a pink as the mug and bowl.

Since the swab test cannot tell you home much lead you're getting, I took everything to a chemist at AMTEST Labs in Redmond.

Chemist Heidi Limmer tested everything according to FDA standards.

Of our 18 samples, seven had exposed lead.

In a pottery salad bowl, a saucer and the dinner plate the lead levels were small.

The dinner plate tested the highest at one-half of one part per million. That's well below the FDA limit of 3 parts per million lead per plate.

But the lead on four imported pieces was over the top.

The culprit -- leaded paint and glaze on the outside, where testing is not even required. Some of the paint even came off on the test labels.

And check out the lab results.

Our sample of the outside of a Chinese dragon tea cup showed 3.33ppm lead, which is six times the FDA limit for lead inside of a cup.

Another imported tea cup tested 121 parts per million lead. The small imported soup bowl tested 143 parts per million and my mug showed159 parts per million.

Think that's bad? Our sister station in Boise found 220 parts per million lead all over the outside of a dollar store Mickey Mouse drinking glass. The paint was so fragile that the color faded during the acid test.

That glass should never have gotten on the market.

"I think we should be concerned about this, concerned about the future generations, concerned about our children," said University of Washington Toxicologist Dr. Steven Gilbert.

But with millions of dishes entering the market from hundreds of different sources, it's impossible inspect everything.

And that's part of the problem. Some ceramics and dishes are fine. Some are borderline and some are loaded with lead. With no serious inspection program, the only way you can know for sure, is to pay for a test, like we did.

The tests at AMTEST cost $10 per piece with results available in three to five working days.

Again, high lead content is not the problem. It's whether that lead is getting out.

Most retailers require manufacturers to certify their products for lead safety, but a lot of poorly-made imports come into the country under the radar.

If you're concerned, test your dishes with a lead test swab. If it turns pink or red, stop using it, especially for kids or pregnant women.

And test the outside of drink ware. There's growing pressure on the FDA to regulate lead on the outside of cups and glasses.

Even an FDA expert told me the high levels we found on the mug, bowl, cups and glass are just not acceptable.

For More Information:

Information on lead testing

Lead test kits

More on lead test kits