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Alameda County, CA,

Larry Brooks
Healthy Homes Department
Including the Lead Poisoning Prevention Program

Possible Sources of Lead

Ceramic Dishes & Pots

What does that yellow triangle mean?

a yellow triangle

Dishes with a yellow triangle have been tested and have been found to leach lead into food in amounts greater than the Proposition 65 warning levels. The triangle is there to help you make an informed choice. Many dishes that are being sold don't require a Proposition 65 warning label for lead.

Why are they suddenly putting lead in dishes?

Lead has actually been used in serving ware for centuries, both for the bright colors on ceramic dishes and for the smooth, transparent glaze.

Unfortunately, lead poisoning is also an ancient disease.   Proposition 65 has helped to highlight this long-standing problem.

Why weren't we warned about this before now?

picture of a decoplat

Proposition 65 took effect in 1988. In early 1993, a group of dish manufacturers agreed to provide warnings about the lead content in their dishes.

The research into the harmful effects of lead in the body is on-going. The Federal Centers for Disease Control have determined what level of lead in a child's body is considered to be hazardous. The agency recently set the hazard levels much lower than they had been before - meaning many more children are now thought to be at risk.

How does lead get from dishes into the body?

picture of a cup and sauce

Lead can leach out from the surface of the dish and get into foods or beverages. Then, when the food is eaten, the lead gets into the body. The amount of lead that leaches from a dish depends on how the dish is used and what kind of food is put in it.

For example:
  • Acid foods and drinks will leach lead out of dishes much faster than non-acid foods.  Spaghetti sauce, salsa, orange juice, applesauce, coffee, tea, cola drinks and salad dressing are examples of acid foods.
  • If you aren't sure about the lead in your dishes, you should not use them for storing food. The longer the food stays in contact with a dish surface containing lead, the more lead will be leached into the food.
  • Heating up food in a lead-containing dish can speed up the lead-leaching process.

A combination of these factors will make the problem even worse.   An example would be storing spaghetti in a lead-containing ceramic dish and then heating it in the microwave.

I've heard a lot lately about childhood lead poisoning, but I don't know any children who have it.  Why is it such a problem?

A child who has been poisoned with lead won't have visible (or recognizable) symptoms of illness like a fever or a sore throat. Lead will harm the developing brain and nervous system of a young child and may reduce his or her ability to learn and achieve.  Once taken in, lead accumulates in the body and stays in the body a long time.  That's why public health experts consider even small amounts of lead to be a problem.

Ceramic dishes are just one potential source of lead.  Now that lead is no longer in gasoline, the largest source of lead in the environment is old lead-based paint on houses and other buildings.

Is Proposition 65 the only law that is concerned with lead in dishes?

No.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets standards for the amount of lead that can leach into food from dishes.  Dishes that leach more lead than the amount allowed by the FDA cannot legally be sold.

Proposition 65 standards for lead in dishes are much stricter than the FDA standards.  By approving Proposition 65, California voters let the government know that they want more of a say in deciding what amount of lead in dishes is safe for themselves and their families.

If there is no yellow triangle on the dish, can I assume it meets the Proposition 65 standards for lead?

Not all manufacturers of ceramic dishes are currently providing the Proposition 65 warning.  Your retail store may have a list of those that are. If a dish pattern made by one of these manufacturers does not have a yellow triangle on it, that pattern meets the strict California standard for lead in ceramicware.  You can also ask your salesperson if the pattern does or does not require a Proposition 65 warning.  The store should be able to find out for you.

What about the dishes I use at home? How do I know if they leach lead into food?

The public can get information about the hazards of lead in specific patterns of ceramic dishes. For more information go to:

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