Is there LEAD in vintage Pyrex? Here's what my home test revealed!



Originally posted 3/28/2016, Updated 12/8/2016:  Controversy has been generated by a 12/01/2016 Snopes article that referenced my YouTube video of a 3M home lead test kit applied to my vintage Pyrex Butterprint bowl. Although my video and blog post below were originally posted in March it's now going viral.

I came across a website and a few blogs that stated it's unsafe to use vintage Pyrex because, they said, there is lead, not just on the colorful outsides, but on the white interior of vintage Pyrex bowls! I panicked because as most of you know I use a lot of vintage Pyrex in my baking and cooking. My bowls and casserole dishes are not just there to look pretty!

I did some research and came across LeadCheck by 3M which is home lead test kit. I contacted them to inquire if their test would work on old Pyrex and other glassware. Here is their response:




Glass bowls and bakeware aren't mentioned specifically but I felt comfortable to proceed based upon the wide range of surfaces mentioned in the PDF. Also, the rep on the phone said "yes" when I asked about old glassware. Check out the video for my test and results which obviously aren't done in strict lab-controlled conditions. This is not a sponsored post or affiliated with 3M in any manner! I paid $25 for an eight pack of swabs and tested eight pieces of my vintage Pyrex, all with the same result. Check 3M's LeadCheck website for more information and disclaimer.

Update: This is directly from the FDA. They state using store-bought lead swab testing kits is a way to determine the presence of lead in pottery:

Advice for Consumers

Be aware that some pottery should be used for decoration only, and not for holding or serving food.

Also, know that a child with lead poisoning may not look or act sick. If your child has been eating or drinking from pottery that may have allowed lead to leach into food, talk to your health care professional about testing your child’s blood for lead.

Be wary if pottery you have was purchased from a flea market or a street vendor, or if you are unable to determine whether the pottery is from a reliable manufacturer.

Look over your pottery and check to see if it is
  • handmade with a crude appearance or irregular shape
  • antique
  • damaged or excessively worn
  • brightly decorated in orange, red, or yellow colors

If you have pottery that fits any of these descriptions or if you're concerned about the safety of pottery in your home, you can:

  • Look for a warning label on the pottery. If the pottery was made for use only as a decorative item, it may have a warning (such as “Not for Food Use—May Poison Food”) stamped onto the bottom.
  • Test the pottery. Lead-testing kits, which are sold in hardware stores and online, come with swabs and instructions. They do not damage the pottery. With most, the swab will change colors if lead leaches onto the swab. If a test reveals a positive result for leachable lead, don’t use the pottery for cooking, serving, or storing food or drinks.
  • If you are unable to test the pottery or otherwise determine that it is not from a reliable manufacturer, don’t use it for cooking, serving, or storing food or drinks.
  • Be aware that no amount of washing, boiling, or other process can remove lead from pottery.

Comments

  1. I saw the same websites, ordered the same tests, and had the same results you did. I was expecting to have to sell my Pyrex collection (the sites said even lead "dust" from shelved Pyrex can make you sick). So were we had or what?

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    1. Right?! I wondered if I need a HazMat suit to enter my kitchen! I don't think we were ultimately "had" because we both chose to investigate further and base our decisions upon those results. I am sure that if my Pyrex was tested by XRF technology it would show some lead as we've seen reported online for other older Pyrex; but the issue (for me...for most people?!) is if the lead is coming in contact with my food. I applied as much pressure as I could in my home tests, and chose heavily worn and scratched places. So I feel safe using them for my food! When you involve children of course it's entirely different, and no lead exposure is safe. It'd be interesting to see a comparative analysis between new imported ceramic and glass bowls to old Pyrex.

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    2. First, Averyl, my mother had the Amish Butter print too but in a Cinderella bowl set- the ones with the spouts on the sides. I've always loved that print!

      Thanks for doing the test. I'm comfortable using my vintage cooking finds because I don't trust that things are made safer today. Did you ever hear that the new Pyrex measuring cups can explode? So I say pick your poison. There are so many chemicals and pollutants in our air and food supply that I think a little lead, if there is any, isn't going to make a big difference. And my kids have always tested low on lead tests their pediatrician does periodically at their check ups. We've lived in old homes for most of their childhood, with lead paint, so this is good news.

      Sarah

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    3. Sarah, yes, I've read many reports about newer Pyrex exploding. In fact, there are new reports filed regularly here:

      http://www.saferproducts.gov/Search/Result.aspx?dm=0&q=pyrex&srt=0

      Those reports aren't verified by the government but it's a government database.

      One of the reasons why I've loved my older Pyrex, besides its utility and beauty, is because it was manufactured before the change in the glass composition. I have been "de-newing" (made up term) as much as possible in my kitchen.

      I agree about picking our poisons. That's good to know about your kids testing low despite living in old homes, too.

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    4. Also, Anchor Hocking:

      http://www.saferproducts.gov/Search/Result.aspx?dm=0&q=anchor+hocking&srt=0

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    5. "de-newing" Ha ha... Thanks for the links.

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  2. That's good information, Averyl! When I read your earlier post on that blue Pyrex bowl yo bought, I looked online to see if there were any problems with Pyrex, like BPA, etc and could not find any :-)

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    1. Thanks for checking on that. :) BPA is found in some plastics and the liner in glass jars.

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    2. To clarify, the jar lid seal, not liner.

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  3. This is helpful, but I'd use caution assuming that a negative test means anything is lead free. A positive result would say for sure that you need to worry about lead (something to watch out for especially with painted surfaces in Pyrex), but the threshold for the lead test to turn positive is about 600 ppm -- above the safe lead level.

    http://leadcheck.com/faqs

    "3M™ LeadCheck™ Swabs only turn red when lead is present (down to 600 ppm)."

    The US Government uses 90 ppm as a safe threshold for toxicity, and the State of California uses an even lower threshold.

    Bottom line, it's not safe to assume something is lead free or not leaching lead based on a negative result from the 3M LeadCheck.

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    1. Hi- thank you!

      Here are the US government standards I have seen:

      https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/csem.asp?csem=7&po=8

      https://www.epa.gov/lead/hazard-standards-lead-paint-dust-and-soil-tsca-section-403

      I have not seen the 90 ppm reference anywhere. Of course I'd rather not have any lead, pollution, cooties, etc etc but I make calculated risks and live with them. :)

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  4. Hi, I am very new to vintage pyrex. I recently found a recipe for a no knead bread that uses 441 and 443 bowls to bake. I picked up a 441 in Butterprint at a thrift store and have been happily using it. I have seen a lot of the lead articles recently including Snopes and the group that fervently rebuts those claims of safety. I am a professional analytical chemist for a large corporation and have been analyzing for lead for many years. I brought to work my new favorite bowl, rinsed down the sides with 25 milliliters of water, left the water in the bowl and heated in the microwave and let it stand for a day. I ran the analysis by inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectroscopy ICP-AES since I am interested in trace level measurement of extractable lead. I know that I am just another voice on the internet but my results showed that I detected 2 parts per billion (micrograms/milliliter) in the boiled sample using lab water. This may sound like a lot but compared to the 4 parts per billion I detected in our tap water, it is safe to assume that NO lead was coming from my vintage pyrex (the lab water blank gave me the same 2 ppb, so the overall result was essentially zero). I also rinsed the outside of the butterprint bowl for comparison and got the same result. The moral of the story if I was going to "contaminate" my homemade bread, it would be from the water I used to make the dough!

    The author of the other blog who is using a handheld XRF to sound 'science-y' would have you believe that lead is flaking off just by handling pyrex. While total lead may very well be detected in the glaze on the outside, no lead from my bowl is extracted and could contaminate food. That author is using the wrong science to make an argument. Out lab also has an XRF and an EDS, other ways to detect lead but I am interested accurately measuring trace level lead. Both those other techniques aren't sensitive to detect sub part per million levels. Respectfully submitted.

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    1. ^^I noticed a typo above after I posted. ppb = micrograms/liter

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    2. Wow, that is really interesting and encouraging but also scary/ironic about the tap water! Thank you for offering this perspective! Is there any way you'd be able to share your findings in a video similar to mine where you show your test/s in action with the results? It would be wonderful to have hard evidence! (And I bet Snopes would reference it!)

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    3. I would have to check with our legal department even though I did this test on my lunch hour ;-) I am part of corporate research and not a contractor. I did it for my own personal curiosity but anyone who reads this comment can send a sample of water collected from their pyrex bowls to their local contract environmental lab for a lead screen the way you would your home drinking water. I came across your blog and liked your reasoning so shared my findings.

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    4. I'm very glad you did share your findings and thank you for doing so! It's more to think about. I understand your position and no pressure is/was intended. I just wish I had access to some fancy equipment beyond the swabs I used.

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  5. Update: Snopes picked up this video in an article to debunk claims that there is lead in vintage Pyrex. The website "Creative Green Living" was quoted in the Snopes article as passing along unproven data about lead in Pyrex. The website author didn't like that and decided to attack my video since Snopes used it as part of their story (which I had no idea would happen). Here are some of the things she has said about it on her website:

    "She did the test wrong. Of course it came out negative."

    There is no evidence that I performed the test incorrectly.

    And: "Notice anything? Oh yeah, she didn't test the paint! You know, the thing that it is designed to test. She tested the glass which didn't come out positive because that's not what these swabs are designed to check. "

    Well, yeah, of course I didn't test the paint. It's not on the inside of the bowl which is what comes in contact with my food.

    She also stated: "Lead check swabs are an incredibly useful tool for testing for lead in PAINT, dust and some other surfaces. They are primarily designed to be used to test PAINT, though. "

    As I posted, the instructions clearly state it's useful for other surfaces I mentioned.

    Finally, she states that my video is "the YouTube equivalent of a fake news site." That is actually bordering on libel. There is nothing "fake" about this video. As I stated below it wasn't performed in a lab and I'm not a scientist. The claims I made are my method, which you can view in the video, and the results of the 3M test as performed according to their instructions. That doesn't equate "fake news."

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  6. Very interesting, Averyl. I use a lot of vintage Pyrex, but had never heard of the sites claiming the presence of lead. So I guess "ignorance is bliss." :-) Thank you!

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  7. This is all very interesting. I'm going to file it away for future reference. Thanks Averyl!

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  8. If you use the same lead testing kit to test the outside of the bowl it will be strongly and immediately positive. The problem with lead paint on the outside of your ceramics is that just by touching it, lead can get on your fingers and come in contact with your mouth, eyes, or nose. I cherish my collection of Butterprint pyrex but have stopped using it because I have babies that could be harmed by lead exposure.

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    1. I understand your concern for your particular situation. I'm not being snarky when I say that I don't lick my fingers or rub my eyes/nose when I'm preparing food. I wash my hands after food prep. I don't have babies.

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