Whether from an antique shop or discount store, toxic lead items are easy to buy (2023)

A vintage military-style trunk she bought at an eastern Michigan flea market when she was a teenager became a staple of Jennifer Poupard's life.

Poupard, now 37, originally bought it to store her CDs. Over the years, the trunk — styled with leather handles and metal buckles — served as a container for shoes, as a coffee table and as a resting place for a record player.

When her child, Wallace, was born in 2013, it was put to a new use.

"[Wallace] would pull the stand at that trunk and turn around and run to me," Poupard said. "And that is around when I noticed the numbers going up."

The numbers that went up were Wallace's blood lead levels.

Poupard was participating in the food assistance program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) in Chicago at that time, which required Wallace to receive regular blood lead tests.

In 2014, Wallace's 18-month lead check came back as 5.3 micrograms per deciliter. At the time, the Centers for Disease Control's reference level was 5 micrograms per deciliter. The CDC lowered that threshold to 3.5 in October 2021.

After consulting with other moms in an online Facebook group, Poupard began to believe her beloved heirloom might be the culprit.

Vintage products purchased at thrift stores or antique shops were often made decades ago – long before current federal regulations on toxic substances went into effect.

Lead paint is regularly found in vintage items more than 40 years old, but sales of these items aren't regulated, and many buyers aren't aware of the threat the neurotoxin poses when they bring second-hand finds into their homes.

'No normal level of lead'

Lead paint and lead pipes are cited as the top risks of lead exposure to children. Poisoning from consumer goods and antiques is rare. Still, state health department websites for Missouri, Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska warn about the dangers of lead in hand-me-down furniture, old ceramics and antique toys.

Elevated blood lead levels in children are typically discovered through routine screenings, not because the child showed signs of poisoning, said Dr. Denise Hooks-Anderson, a family physician who previously practiced in St. Louis for 10 years.

Symptoms of lead poisoning include abdominal pain, constipation, fatigue and maybe headaches, Hooks-Anderson said. And even if there are no immediate symptoms to warn parents and doctors, the long-term consequences of lead exposure for children can be severe.

"One of the most dangerous misconceptions about lead is that levels have to be really high to cause damage," Hooks-Anderson said.

In a 2010 study, researchers with Oregon State University, the State University of New York and the University of California-Berkeley purchased used items from second-hand and antique stores.

They found that leaded items could be purchased at each of the stores they visited in Virginia, New York and Oregon, and that 19 of the 28 purchased items violated the 1978 federal standard banning the use of residential paint containing greater than 600 parts per million lead.

The most toxic item researchers tested was a salt shaker lid containing 714 times that limit. Researchers agreed, at the time, that it would likely be impossible to regulate the sale of second-hand items at antique stores and flea markets and that children should not be allowed to come into contact with items purchased from an unregulated seller.

Concerned about where the lead was coming from, Poupard sought answers online. That's where she found Tamara Rubin, an activist for consumer goods safety with a large online community.

Rubin founded Lead Safe Mama LLC in 2016 to formally continue the work she'd started in 2008 educating the public about lead hazards after her own children were poisoned. She estimates she interacts with up to 100 people a day, answering questions and providing resources.

About "90% of my readership is moms," Rubin said, "Moms and grandmas."

In Rubin's private Facebook group of more than 18,000 members, parents seek support and advice from one another about experiences involving lead poisoning or children's exposure to leaded items.

Rubin sent Poupard 3M swabs to test items in her home for lead, as she's done for countless other families. The swabs turn pink or red when they detect lead on surfaces.

"And I tested the trunk. And that was positive, like immediately bright red on the swab," Poupard said.

The EPA has raised questions about the accuracy of 3M swabs, including issues about false positives in a report on the product from 2012. But Poupard wasn't willing to take any chances, especially after recalling the first summer she had the trunk, when her health had taken a temporary turn for the worse around the same time that she was using a metal scraper and wire brush to strip off the green paint on the trunk.

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It's unlikely the trunk was the only thing contributing to Wallace's lead levels in the older apartment. But Poupard immediately covered it with a sheet to limit Wallace's exposure. But given its size, it took years for her to finally get the trunk out of their lives. And when she was finally able to get rid of it, she wanted to make sure on one else would bring it into their home.

Whether from an antique shop or discount store, toxic lead items are easy to buy (2)

/ Jennifer Poupard

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Jennifer Poupard

"I wrote with permanent marker all over it like in huge letters 'LEAD PAINT' on all the sides and inside," Poupard said. "And I timed it for when the garbage truck should be coming that day or the next day.

Building materials like doors, window sashes and decorative items from before 1978 are particularly risky, said Dr. Kandace Fisher-McLean, a professor with the University of Missouri Extension and Coordinator for the National Healthy Homes Partnership. Vintage dishware, ceramic items, silverware, jewelry, toys and furniture are also more likely to contain lead.

But there isn't a reliable way for a person to assess whether an older object is a lead hazard.

"You can certainly use that age marker, as a general sort of rule of thumb," Fisher-McLean said.

"But with all of the items that are on the market, and all of the ways and means that people could obtain these items — from antique stores, to flea markets, to thrift stores to garage sales — there was absolutely no way to regulate all of the things that are already on the market."

Lead has to get inside the body to be dangerous, and children are most vulnerable, Fisher-McLean said.

"Children are naturally curious. ... They touch lots of things, then they put their hands in their mouth."

As a good rule of thumb, "don't purchase vintage toys for your children to play with," Fisher-McLean cautioned.

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Vintage dishes can be especially risky as they're exposed to heat and light over time, leading to the production of lead dust, which poses a danger if ingested or inhaled, Fisher-McLean said.

When 15 children and adults tested positive for elevated blood lead levels tied to the use of ceramic ware last year, the New York Health Department issued a warning about purchasing or using traditional ceramic ware from flea markets, street vendors or places where it's difficult to determine the manufacturer or how the product was made.

At the Chesterfield Antique Mall in St. Louis County, M0., a vintage 1940s dish set is on display and for sale.

"A piece like that might be beautiful to hang on your wall or to put in a china cabinet," Fisher-McLean said. "But certainly, it's not something that you want to be eating off of."

Goodwill of Western Missouri and Eastern Kansas declined to comment on policies regarding the sale of damaged or vintage dishes and toys.

Discount store items

Even new items can pose threats of lead exposure.

Discount stores including Dollar General, Family Dollar and Dollar Tree offer thousands of products at low prices, from essential items to kids' toys. With hundreds of discount stores across Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri, people may rely on these retailers — especially when they are the only options close to home.

Campaign for Healthier Solutions, a nonprofit that works to reduce lead and other toxic elements in items purchased at discount stores, has conducted studies over the years on the lead levels in things like tablecloths, jewelry and toys sold at discount stores.

Its most recent study found that of 226 items tested, the level of toxic chemicals, including lead, dropped from 81% in 2015 to 53% in 2022. While the lead levels were improved, lead soldering in toys and headphones targeted toward children were found to have high levels of the toxic metal.

The group wants discount stores to demand manufacturers produce products with no lead, said José Bravo, national coordinator for the Campaign for Healthier Solutions.

"Lead is such an easy lift for stores or retailers to go upstream to their suppliers and say, 'Guess what? No lead is safe lead,'" he said.

Whether from an antique shop or discount store, toxic lead items are easy to buy (3)

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Bravo said the reduction in the number of items being found containing toxins is progressing. Along with the report, one of his organization's efforts is communicating with each company's executives to update their policies to expand the restricted substance list. But the lists are only being applied to the store-labeled products, meaning more work needs to be done so it applies to everything sold.

Dollar Tree's corporate spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

The federal Consumer Goods Protection Agency sets standards for tolerable amounts of lead in products. So far this year, six products have been recalled for exceeding a lead concentration of 90 parts per million in children's products, which is the maximum amount of lead allowable. Bravo said leaving it up to regulators isn't always enough.

"Most often enough, people would say, 'Well, yeah, you know, the EPA, or the Food and Drug Administration, or somebody is safeguarding our health when it comes to them.' That's not the reality," Bravo said.

Bravo admits eliminating lead from products is only one piece of addressing lead exposure.

"I like to say if we can minimize exposure $1 at a time from these dollar stores, I think it goes a long way."

The poor pay the price

For some people, the solution is simple: Get rid of items found to have lead in them. Yet Bravo, reflecting on his childhood, contends that not everyone is able to afford that luxury.

"A lot of these toys are really flimsy, a lot of these products are really flimsy, and they fall apart," he said. "Once they fall apart, children keep on playing. I remember myself having something that fell apart and because of my upbringing, and we didn't have [the] resources, I still played with. Same thing happens with this."

And even when products get discarded in the trash, it's lower income and communities of color that suffer the most.

"Where are those municipal trash areas located? They're located back in our community, right?" he said. "And it rains, it goes in the water."

When it rains, leachate, a liquid formed from drawing out many chemicals in waste, can make its way into the soil if a landfill lacks a liner or has a damaged liner. From there, it can leach into groundwater, according to a 2013 paper written by several Belgium researchers looking into environmental and socio-economic impacts of landfills.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, part of the CDC, lists among the environmental health hazards for lead, "people living near hazardous waste sites, incinerators, landfills," adding that people can be exposed to lead by "breathing air, drinking water, eating foods, or swallowing dust or dirt that contains lead."

The Missouri Independent and the Midwest Newsroom are jointly exploring the issue of high levels of lead in the children in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.

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Copyright 2022 Midwest Newsroom. To see more, visit . Whether from an antique shop or discount store, toxic lead items are easy to buy (4)

FAQs

Does antique jewelry have lead? ›

Other items such as painted tin panels, lead crystal, hardware, jewelry, toys, furniture and dishes may also contain lead. These vintage items may be found at flea markets, garage sales, antique shops and online.

What products still contain lead? ›

Table of Contents
  • Paint (older homes, old toys, furniture, crafts)
  • Dust.
  • Soil.
  • Drinking water.
  • Air.
  • Folk medicines, ayurvedics, and cosmetics.
  • Children's jewelry and toys.
  • Workplace and hobbies.

Are vintage dishes safe? ›

We do not recommend not using old ware unless it shows signs of deterioration such as cracking or pitting of the glaze. This could be a sign that the glaze is disintegrating and could allow lead to leach into food.

Does my China have lead in it? ›

Many old china dishes and mixing bowls can contain lead, especially if they are bright colors and very decorative. The concern is the lead can leach from the dishes and is highly toxic to humans and pets. If the dishes are cracked, chipped or the glaze is wearing off, they should not be used to prepare or serve food.

Does cheap jewelry have lead? ›

High levels of lead have been found in jewelry, especially inexpensive children's jewelry. Exposures to lead can lead to a number of health problems, including: behavioral problems.

How do you tell if something has lead in it? ›

Lead test paper will turn pink to dark purple, and copper test paper will turn pink to crimson. The test paper may leave a pink or red mark on the object. After the test, use clean water to rinse the test area on the metal to remove residual chemicals from the test, and dry the surface immediately.

Can you wash lead out of clothes? ›

If you are exposed to lead and your employer does not launder your clothing, you should take the clothing home in a plastic bag and put the clothing directly into the washing machine. You should use detergents to remove lead. Other clothing should not be washed with the work clothing.

Where is lead poisoning most common? ›

Who is at risk for lead poisoning?
  • Children between the ages of 1 and 3.
  • Children in low-income families.
  • African-Americans.
  • Mexican Americans.
  • People living in large metropolitan areas.
  • People living in older housing built before 1978.

Do Pyrex dishes contain lead? ›

Yes. Almost all vintage Pyrex bowls and baking dishes test positive for large amounts of lead.

Can you get lead poisoning from old dishes? ›

In some cases, however, lead in tableware can be a serious health threat. Some dishes contain enough lead to cause severe lead poisoning. Even dishes with lower lead levels may contribute to a person's overall lead exposure.

How can I test my antique china for lead? ›

Consumers can buy lead-testing kits in hardware stores or online. The kits contain swabs with instructions on proper use of the swabs and reading of the results. In most cases, the consumer will rub the swab on the food-contacting surface of the pottery.

How can I tell if my old dishes have lead? ›

The only way to determine if certain tableware has lead is to test it. Home lead test kits can tell you if the dishes have leachable lead. These tests are most useful in detecting high levels of lead.

Do all vintage dishes have lead? ›

Before 1971, there were no limits on lead in dinnerware and ceramics, so vintage items from before then are very likely to have unsafe levels of lead. Starting in 1971, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began to enforce limits on the amount of leachable lead in ceramics and tableware.

What brands of dinnerware are lead free? ›

Top six safest dinnerware brands to use at home (not made in China)
  • 1) Glass Anchor Hocking Lead-free Dishes – Made in USA. ...
  • 2) Ceramic Fiestaware Lead-free Dishes – Made in USA. ...
  • 3) Glass Libbey Crisa Moderno Lead-free Dinnerware – Made in USA & Mexico. ...
  • 4) Porcelain Sur La Table Lead-free Dinnerware Set – Made in Turkey.
30 Mar 2021

How do you tell if your jewelry has lead in it? ›

There is no way to know if a product contains high levels of lead or cadmium by looking at it. That is why parents should keep jewelry with small parts away from young children, and never allow them to put jewelry in their mouths.

Can lead be absorbed through the skin? ›

Some studies have found lead can be absorbed through skin. If you handle lead and then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth, you could be exposed. Lead dust can also get on your clothes and your hair. If this happens, it's possible that you may track home some of the lead dust, which may also expose your family.

What happens if you wear jewelry with lead in it? ›

Excessive exposure to lead can cause many health effects, ranging from behavioral problems and learning disabilities to organ failure and even death. Children 6 years old and younger are more susceptible to adverse health effects because their bodies are growing quickly and their brains are still developing.

Will lead stick to a magnet? ›

If a magnet sticks, it is a steel pipe. Magnets will ONLY stick to steel. They will NOT stick to lead or copper. Lead is dull, very soft, and will turn a shiny silver color when scratched.

Can you test for lead with vinegar? ›

On a white plastic plate mix a drop of the Indicator solution with a drop of vinegar. The resulting drop solution mixture should be colorless to yellow. present on the swab a pink-red coloration should appear on it within 1-10 minutes (depending on the Lead concentration).

How can you tell if something is lead metal? ›

3 Ways to Test for Lead - YouTube

How long does it take to get lead poisoning? ›

How long it takes a child to absorb toxic levels of lead depends on the concentration of lead in the dust. Rosen says that in a typical lead-contaminated housing unit, it takes one to six months for a small child's blood-lead levels to rise to a level of concern.

How do you get rid of lead in your body? ›

In this treatment, a medication given by mouth binds with the lead so that it's excreted in urine. Chelation therapy might be recommended for children with a blood level of 45 mcg/dL or greater and adults with high blood levels of lead or symptoms of lead poisoning.

What are 2 major sources of lead poisoning? ›

Lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust are the most common sources of lead poisoning.

Does soap remove lead? ›

Washing skin with standard soap and water is not enough to remove lead residues. NIOSH researchers have developed wipes that can remove 98% of lead residues from skin.

Does all detergent remove lead? ›

Lead will only get cleaned if the detergent has surfactant in it which is not present in organic or natural detergents.

How do I test my clothes for lead? ›

Testing Fabrics for Lead Contamination using the ... - YouTube

Does boiling water remove lead? ›

Don't: Boil water to remove lead ▪ Boiling water will not lower the amount of lead. Use hot water for drinking, cooking or making baby formula and baby cereal. Hot water is more likely to contain higher levels of lead.

What are the chances of getting lead poisoning? ›

Lead poisoning is very common. 1 in 40 children ages 1-5 years old have blood lead levels that are considered unsafe (over 5 µg/dL).

What are four signs a person has been poisoned? ›

When to suspect poisoning
  • Burns or redness around the mouth and lips.
  • Breath that smells like chemicals, such as gasoline or paint thinner.
  • Vomiting.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Confusion or other altered mental status.

Does old Corelle have lead? ›

If you own Corelle dinnerware from before 2005, consider removing it from your kitchen cabinets due to concerns for high levels of lead. Corelle recommends using their pre-2005 dishes as quote “decorative pieces.”

Is vintage Corelle safe to use? ›

Corelle products purchased after 2005 are safe and comply with FDA regulations. Now, if you have any older dishes, that gets a little trickier. You'll want to avoid eating off of older Corelle dinnerware if it shows obvious signs of deterioration; if the glaze is worn, if the paint is melting or chipping, etc.

Does plain white Corelle have lead? ›

All of these “embossed” Corelle dishes are Lead-free (as long as there are no colored elements.) The plain white ones without an decorative elements are also Lead-free (here's an example on Amazon).

How long does it take to get lead out of your system? ›

The half-life of lead in adult human blood has been estimated as 28 days. The body accumulates lead over a lifetime and normally releases it very slowly. Both past and current elevated exposures to lead increase patient risks for adverse health effects from lead.

What vintage dishes contain lead? ›

The highest likelihood of lead exposure comes from these type of dishes:
  • Traditional glazed terra cotta (clay) dishware from Latin America.
  • Highly decorated fine china or porcelain.
  • Antique dishes made before 1971.
  • Homemade and hand-crafted tableware.
  • Dishes with bright colors or decorations on inside surfaces.
10 Mar 2022

Do vintage mugs have lead? ›

Most vintage clear glass mugs are either Lead-safe or Lead-free, too (again, make sure you look out for – and avoid – Leaded crystal, though!).

What is the safest dinnerware to buy? ›

Safe, Non-Toxic Dinnerware
  • NEW Corelle. Dinnerware, Drinkware, Storage, Serving & More.
  • Anchor Hocking. Dinnerware, Drinkware, Storage, & Bowls.
  • Ball Mason Jars. Multi-Use Jars.
  • NEW Pyrex. Storage Containers.
  • Glass Pyrex containers are perfect for cooking, storing, and baking! ...
  • Libbey. ...
  • Duralex. ...
  • Stainless Steel Utensils.

Does New Corelle have lead? ›

In short, any Corelle dishware made after 2005 is safe and complies with current FDA regulations on lead in dishes. And they have lots of modern lead-free patterns to choose from.

What foods have lead in them? ›

However, surprisingly high lead levels have been found in some of our favorite foods, like chocolate, peas, cannabis (sorry), sweet potatoes, and mustard greens, as well as other crops. That means lead can wind up in the products you may have in your pantry, like these: baby food. fruit juice.

How can you tell if jewelry has lead in it? ›

Test Jewelry for Lead - YouTube

Is vintage jewelry safe? ›

Anyone deciding to wear any type of vintage jewellery which contains lead can should take some precautions: immediately wash hands after handling it, wash the area it has touched on the skin when you take the piece off, don't put it near your mouth, strictly keep it out of reach of children, never wear it around ...

Does antique silver contain lead? ›

Neither traditional sterling silver nor Argentium sterling silver contain lead: it ruins the alloy and causes it to melt into nasty pitted puddles when you attempt to solder it.

Is it safe to wear jewelry with lead? ›

Simply wearing jewelry containing lead or cadmium is unlikely to be harmful because almost no lead or cadmium enters the body through direct skin contact.

Can cheap jewelry make you sick? ›

Cheap jewelry can make you sick! Over half the jewelry tested had high levels of toxic chemicals like lead, cadmium, chromium, nickel, brominated flame retardants, chlorine, mercury and arsenic. Twenty-seven of the pieces had levels exceeding the limit for children's projects.

Does the body get rid of lead? ›

The lead can be either stored or excreted into your urine and faeces. The time it takes for most of the lead to be excreted depends on how long you have been exposed for. If the lead is not excreted by the kidney or gut within a few weeks the remaining lead moves to your bones and teeth.

Can lead be absorbed through the skin? ›

Some studies have found lead can be absorbed through skin. If you handle lead and then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth, you could be exposed. Lead dust can also get on your clothes and your hair. If this happens, it's possible that you may track home some of the lead dust, which may also expose your family.

What is the best jewelry to collect? ›

The Top 10 Jewelry Investments for 2022
  • Natural Saltwater Pearls.
  • Colored & Fancy Diamonds.
  • Rare Vintage Rings.
  • Signed Jewelry.
  • Kashmir Sapphires (Our Top Pick for 2022)
  • Unheated Burma Rubies.
  • Gold and Platinum.
  • Type IIa Diamonds.
3 Jan 2022

How do you remove lead from jewelry? ›

To remove lead from most base metals get yourself some drain cleaner, I use Spirits of Salts drain cleaner, this is about 30% hydrochloric acid solution and is available from most hardware stores, I usually only have small antiques that have lead on to remove, so I just let them soak for a while in a pyrex bowl with ...

What should I look for in old jewelry? ›

There are four characteristics of vintage jewelry to look for while you're shopping: the design style, techniques, materials used, and stamps. These characteristics vary based on the era they were produced in.

How can you tell the difference between lead and silver? ›

Lead is very heavy, and turns to a white superficial color after years in the ground. Silver is much lighter and turn black when a long time in the ground. Lead is soft. Silver is harder.

Do glass beads contain lead? ›

Like any glass, the composition of these beads can vary. Some glass beads have been found to contain toxic metals like lead and arsenic. This is a concern because the beads are typically pulverized during use and generate dust.

How do you test silverware for lead? ›

Testing vintage silver plate objects for Lead using a home test kit - YouTube

When did lead stop being used in jewelry? ›

The U.S. banned or limited lead use in many products in 1978.

Does costume jewelry contain lead? ›

The Ecology Center, a Michigan-based non-profit organization that advocates for a safe and healthy environment, discovered through recently conducted tests that despite strict regulations, many pieces of costume jewelry contain high levels of unsafe chemicals including lead, chromium and nickel.

What amount of lead is toxic? ›

Current standards define a lead blood level of 10 mcg/dL in the as being toxic in children. In adults, a level of 25 mcg/dL is considered toxic. Any level of lead can have toxic manifestations, and all health care practitioners should become familiar with the signs, symptoms, and treatment of lead poisoning.

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