Tuesday, January 23, 2018

All You Ever Wanted to Know About Lead in Vintage Pyrex Bowls

lead in vintage pyrex bowls
photo by Emily Carlin. See the original here.

This article was originally published October of 2015. It was last updated January 23, 2018

I grew up using (what are now considered) vintage Pyrex bowls and baking in vintage Pyrex dishes. In fact, my mom and grandmother both owned a set of the same colorful Pyrex nesting mixing bowls shown above. These were the same Pyrex bowls I hoped to own one day as well.

My whole life, these colorful Pyrex mixing bowls have been my very favorite to use. As a child, I learned how to cook eggs in a microwave in the little blue one. I've made a hundred batches or more of muffins, cookies, and pancake batter in the big yellow one. 

Here is picture of me with my mom making a pie crust in the green one:
mother and child baking together with vintage pyrex mixing bowl

So I get it. 

I get it when people are upset about a documentary film maker telling them that there is lead in their Pyrex bowls and dishes. 

These things are part of people's childhood memories. These Pyrex bowls remind people of their grandmother - and nobody messes with memories of Grandma!

Beyond grandma, a lot of people collect vintage Pyrex bowls and baking dishes. Not only are these pieces beautiful, but they make people feel connected to their mothers and grandmothers by using their kitchen items. To be told these things associated with so many happy feelings is possibly poisoning them is hard to hear.

Some people (like me) even started collecting vintage pyrex as a safe alternative to plastic kitchenware - and to learn they were wrong in that regard is hurtful, frustrating and embarrassing. 

is there lead in vintage Pyrex bowls -green vintage pyrex bowl with lid
(click here or on the image to go directly to this post on Facebook)

The problem is, that once you know that there is lead in the coating of your vintage Pyrex (or Anchor Hocking or similar dishware) you have to decide what to do next.

Is there lead in vintage Pyrex bowls and baking dishes?

Yes. Almost all vintage Pyrex bowls and baking dishes test positive for lead when using an XRF (a precision scientific instrument that will report the exact quantity of lead, cadmium and other heavy metals found in an item). 

Many vintage Pyrex bowls and baking dishes will also "swab positive" - this means that a reactive agent swab like the 3M LeadCheck swabs will be able to detect lead in quantities above 600 parts-per-million. This type of test works by getting part of the surface coating (usually paint) to rub off onto the swab. If leaded paint can rub off onto a swab, it's able to rub off onto your hands and get into your body.

Where is the lead in vintage Pyrex bowls and baking dishes?

The highest concentration of lead is usually in the paint on the outside of the Pyrex bowl or dish. With some very rare exceptions, the paint on the outside of both Pyrex and Corningware bowls and baking dishes will usually tests positive for lead between 15,000 - 100,000 PPM lead. For reference, 90 PPM is the highest amount of lead allowed in items intended for children and if house paint has more than 600 PPM lead, it is considered "lead paint" and needs remediation. 15,000 PPM lead is a LOT of lead. 100,000 PPM lead means that a full 10% of the paint formula is lead. That is a LOT of lead.

Do you have vintage Pyrex dishes? Check the Lead Safe Mama website to see if a pattern you own has tested positive for lead: See if your vintage Pyrex design has tested positive for lead.

Tamara Rubin, the director and producer of the forthcoming documentary, MisLEAD: America's Secret Epidemic is also an independent lead safety advocate on Facebook as The Lead Safe Mama. She also runs a website where she posts the results of lead tests. In the Facebook post that ignited a firestorm, she shows an image of a 3M Lead Check Swab after being used to test the outside of a Pyrex bowl. The tip of the swab is red,  meaning the paint tested positive lead at levels of 600 PPM (or more).

Does the milk glass used in vintage Pyrex contain lead?

The milk glass interiors, used in many vintage Pyrex and Anchor Hocking pieces, commonly contain lead as well. The lead in milk glass is probably inert and trapped in the glass, however, no lab tests are currently being done on these vintage pieces. It is probable that using vintage milk glass with highly acidic foods or using glass that is scratched may release some of the lead contained in the glass. The problem is that as you use the dish, there is no way to tell that you've reached the point where your bowl or dish is leaching lead.

Are my vintage dishes safe to use?

"I don't cook with the outside of the bowl so I'm fine." - Facebook user
This was a common response to the test posted on Facebook. People insisted that since food doesn't come in contact with the outside of the bowls, these tests do nothing more than drum up fear. 

The problem is, that if lead is coming off onto a Lead Check Swab, that means it IS rubbing off - in small, even microscopic (but still dangerous) amounts - and it becomes available to be transferred to your mouth, eyes, or even your child's food or body. 

Even though you can't see it....Every time you touch it. Every time you stack it inside another dish. Every time you run it through the dishwasher. Every time you wipe it with a rag. All of these actions will release a microscopic amount of lead from the paint that can contaminate your environment.  

If you carry the dish to the table and a micro amount of lead comes off on your hands and then you turn around and start preparing your child's food, you're spreading that contamination. If you child touches the dish as it's being passed around the table and gets lead on their hands and then puts their hands in their mouth, they've just ingested lead. 

As much as I really wish I could tell you that your vintage Pyrex is still safe to use around your family, I would strongly advise against it. Even though the amount of paint transferred with each use is small (so small you won't be able to see it), these tiny amounts of lead build up in our bodies and can have irreversible side effects - especially in children.

Is lead really that big of a deal?

"It's not like my kids are eating paint chips." - Facebook user

While chances that you will get acute lead poisoning from using vintage Pyrex are minimal, do not underestimate the damage exposure to tiny amounts of lead can do over time. As lead accumulates in the body, it can cause irreversible damage. 

Young children are the ones most prone to lead damage as their nervous systems are still developing. Common side effects in children exposed to low levels of lead over time include:
  • Reduced IQ
  • Behavior problems
  • Hearing problems
  • Learning difficulties
  • Growth delays
Knowing that most lead poisoning is not acute, but rather, happens in very small, microscopic doses over time, I personally try to avoid using any lead containing products in my home because no beautiful object is worth the risk to my family's health.

How can I tell if MY dish contains lead?

The Lead Safe Mama has a catalog of items she has tested for lead on her website. Go here to see the results for Pyrex dishes. Go here to see the results for Corning and Corningware items. I would start by looking there to see if the Pyrex dish you own is one that has already been tested.

Keep in mind that these results are not exhaustive. Tamara (Lead Safe Mama) has tested thousands of items over the last decade and has only somewhat recently started cataloging the results on her website. The Facebook group, The Lead (pb) Group, is also a great place to post a photo of the dishes you have to see if anyone has had theirs tested and what the results were.

You can also perform your own test at home using 3M Lead Check Swab (available on Amazon). Keep in mind that these tests are designed to test paint and so are best suited for testing designs painted on the outside of your dish or bowl. 3M LeadCheck swabs will not be able to accurately test for lead in glass, milk glass or ceramic.

Lead Safe Vintage Pyrex Alternative

Since this post was originally published in 2015, a company called Vintage Charm has created a line of vintage Pyrex inspired bowls and some of them are lead and cadmium free! This particular design inspired by the vintage Pyrex Butterprint design has tested "non-detect" for lead and cadmium (meaning the machine could not find lead or cadmium). 

Not all of their designs are lead and cadmium free, but this particular pattern is and I own these bowls myself. Buy them on Amazon here: Vintage Pyrex "Butterprint" Inspired Bowls
Inspired by Vintage Pyrex - butterprint inspired bowls are lead free

What about Snopes?

Snopes fascinatingly tried to debunk a previous version of this article in 2016 but failed. Click here to read more about Snopes and how they missed the key piece of information they needed in order to cover this issue accurately.

About the Author:

Carissa is a green lifestyle advocate and mom of two active boys. The owner and lead writer for Creative Green Living, she is also the author of several e-books as well as the hardcover cookbook, Beautiful Smoothie Bowls (Skyhorse, 2017). Her goal is to empower families to make easy projects and healthier choices that are beautiful and delicious! Follow her on PinterestInstagramTwitter or join the Creative Green Living community group.
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  1. I tested the inside of my vintage Pyrex bowls and there was lead.

  2. What about leaded glass such as Waterford? What about depression green glass that contains uranium? Is that safe to use?

  3. Shouldn't one have permission to public quoted statements? I recall those comments being made in a private collectors group. How did you get them??

    1. If you're talking about the common objections attributed to "a Facebook User", these objections are common enough that I see them all over public forums whenever this information from Lead Safe America comes up. I am not in any private collectors groups on Facebook so I haven't lifted the comments from there.

  4. Is there lead in the vintage pyrex plates that are oven safe?

    1. There are some vintage pyrex baking dishes that have paint/color on the outside that have lead. You could get lead check swabs to check your dishes specifically.

  5. I have a vintage blue glass Pyrex bowl. There is no paint on it, nor has there ever been. Do you have information on this? Thank you for your post; it's informative.

    1. If you pop over to facebook and join this group and post a photo, you should be able to get more insight: https://www.facebook.com/groups/LeadSafe/

  6. Replies
    1. Thank you. I've definitely heard that before!

  7. Would love to know what people are doing with their pieces now we know they have lead. I have a stack of them in my kitchen I can't quite bring myself to throw in the garbage-seems so wasteful, but feel like it's not right to donate to thrift store where people who don't know they contain lead will use them. What should we do with these dishes?

    1. That's a great question. I know people who are leaving them as display-only pieces-ideally in a closed China cabinet to avoid them accumulating dust and needing to be dusted.

    2. They would probably be considered hazardous waste, due to the lead content! If they were just sent to the dump, eventually the lead would be worn off and enter the environment. sigh ...

  8. http://www.snopes.com/vintage-pyrex-contains-unsafe-levels-of-lead/

    Interesting rebuttal by snopes

    1. Thanks for the link. The Snopes article is disappointingly poorly researched. Tamara (the other woman attacked in the article) wrote a great response here: http://tamararubin.com/2016/12/snope/

  9. Very well done and well rounded information. Thanks so much! You certainly are the spitting image of your mother. :)

  10. I have a bad feeling that this could include my Corningware Cornflower bowls. Please tell me that this isn't so!

    1. Plain blue cornflower is actually one of the very few vintage patterns that usually tests lead free! (see: Lead Safe Mama's post on that)


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