Monday, December 5, 2016

Myth Busting: Is There REALLY Lead in Vintage Pyrex?

photo credit: Emily Carlin on Flickr
Last year, after spending a weekend with Tamara Rubin, the founder of consumer advocacy nonprofit, Lead Safe America, I came home and wrote an article on lead in vintage Pyrex. And I struck a nerve. This article has been shared thousands of times now--both from people who love it or hate it. 

Then the trolls came. 

They accused me of infiltrating their private vintage Pyrex collectors Facebook groups. 

They accused me of trying to disparage vintage Pyrex so that I could buy pieces for myself at less than market value.

They attacked the integrity of Tamara Rubin, the premier expert on lead in consumer products in the United States. 

Most recently I became the subject of an article on Snopes

In case you are wondering: 
  • I wasn't in any Pyrex collecting Facebook groups at the time (I interestingly have joined one recently).
  • I am certainly not collecting vintage Pyrex myself - although the fact that people think I alone can affect the market value of vintage Pyrex is flattering. 
  • And Tamara Rubin? Let me reiterate: She is the premier expert on lead exposure in the home in the United States, if not the world. When major media outlets want to talk to someone who knows what they are talking about regarding lead, they call Tamara.

So what about the lead?

That's why you're here, right? To find out of there really is lead in vintage Pyrex?

Let's make this easy for you: 
YES. Most vintage Pyrex with a painted or colored exterior (both solid colors and designs) uses lead-containing paint. Go here to read more about why you should care.

But Snopes said....

The truth is that the people working at Snopes are not trained scientists. They are not professional researchers. They do not have any additional insight to answers about scientific issues than most journalists (including bloggers) who do their homework. They are supposed to be doing a combination of research and critical thinking in order to come to their conclusions but on this specific issue, they missed the boat. I'm not saying they are wrong all of the time, but I am saying they are wrong about this issue.

Their accusation:
Claims that lead is present in vintage Pyrex are unfounded because one YouTuber performed her own Lead Check Swab test which tested negative even though a lead expert's test was positive. At best the results are inconclusive and and at worst, Tamara Rubin is a fraud.

Here's what Snopes missed:
The test that came out negative was performed incorrectly. Obviously the Snopes "investigator" doesn't know much about Lead Check swab testing or she would have picked up on that. Despite the fact that this woman clearly has no expertise in lead in consumer products or proper lead testing protocol, she STILL had the audacity to accuse Tamara of using fake and unscientific methods. 

Did you catch that? She did the test wrong. 
Of course it came out negative.
And Snopes ate it up.

One YouTuber who does not know how to properly check for lead in consumer goods...
performs a test incorrectly...
posts it online...
and all of a sudden the actual science surrounding whether or not there is lead in vintage Pyrex is "inconclusive"?

Really? 

This is the exact type of crap Snopes says it is debunking and instead they fell for the YouTube equivalent of a fake news site and are preaching it as gospel. 

The irony is not lost on me.

Real Science

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. They also have a threshhold--something that contains 600 PPM of lead needs to rub off on it to trigger as positive. Now, this is almost never an issue when testing the paint in vintage Pyrex because vintage Pyrex paint often has upward of 40,000 PPM lead - more than 66 times the amount of lead required to trigger the test when you do the test properly.


The video is short and seeing how a trained expert uses the swabs is essential for understanding the proper way to do the test (spoiler: You have to rub the swab on the paint.)

Now that you have seen Tamara, the expert, do a Lead Check Swab test, watch this video of an INCORRECT Lead Check Swab test. (If you did not read it, this is the video Snopes uses as "proof" that the presence of lead in vintage dishes is "inconclusive")

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. 

So nice try, Snopes but you screwed up on this one.

Also, I might add that while these tests can be replicated by anyone with a Lead Check Swab on the exterior, painted surface of vintage Pyrex bowls, baking dishes and more, Tamara has also confirmed these results with an XRF gun, a $40,000 scientific instrument. Not just once. More than 100 times.

UPDATE: In January, Tamara and I did a Facebook live testing Pyrex we borrowed from friends with a XRF which tells you the precise amount of lead (and other heavy metals) are in an item.

Unlike the swabs, which will only give you a positive or negative reading, the XRF gun requires training and certification in order to use (which Tamara has) and will tell you actual amount of parts-per-million of lead, cadmium, arsenic and more in the item. The amount of lead in the exterior of vintage kitchen items is commonly 40,000 PPM or more (for the record, the current legal limit of lead in new cups, pitchers and bowl is a mere 0.5 PPM, so 40K is a pretty big deal!).

Now that we have out-snopsed Snopes, and demonstrated that there is indeed lead in Vintage Pyrex (and Anchor Hocking and other brands of painted baking dishes and mixing bowls), go here to read more about whether or not you should care.

About the Author:

Carissa is a green lifestyle expert and mom of two boys. The owner and lead writer for Creative Green Living, she is also the author of two e-books including the best-selling beverage cookbook, Infused: Recipes for Herb & Fruit Infused Water, Tea and More. You can also find her recipes featured in The Non-GMO Cookbook as well as in periodicals like Urban Farm Magazine. Her goal is to empower families to make healthier choices that are easy, taste great and are fun!
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