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QUESTION: How can I be sure that lead is not leaching from ceramic ware into our food? 28/07/10  Victoria, Australia

Dear Sir Madam,

There are several rumours on the web regarding lead in slow cookers.  I have purchased one, made in the UK, and I feel like throwing it out.  I have a 5 year old, and I have my concerns with this issue, as I don't want her getting lead poisoning if these stories are true.

Can you please advise have you heard of these rumours, do we have laws that govern usage of lead in slow cookers, cookware etc?

Also I heat up food in the microwave with porcelain coated and bone china plates and cups. (Maxwell Williams and Royal Doulton brands). Do I need to be concerned that there might be lead contained in these items as well, and upon reheating foods that they might leach lead?

Kind Regards

Natalie.

ANSWER: Aug  3 2010

Dear Natalie,

the consumer is not particularly well protected from lead in ceramic glazes in Australia. Sure, we have a very old standard but it needs to be updated to reflect recent advice from the World Health Organisation that blood lead levels should be as low as possible (rather than simply "under 10 micrograms per decilitre") and our organisation recommends in fact that blood lead levels should be below 2 micrograms per decilitre (2 g/dL). Whether that can be achieved by simply reducing the acceptable leachable lead level from ceramic glazes in the Australian standard by 5 times is yet to be worked out.

In the meantime, you can protect your family by firstly having everyone's blood lead level tested by the doctor. These results will answer a great many other questions which can arise, such as, should I stop using my slow cooker or heating food in ceramicware in the microwave? Is my old paint or house dust or soil possibly a source of lead for my daughter? etc. If your daughter's blood lead level is higher than yours, this will direct your investigation away from potential lead sources that you are both exposed to, such as the slow cooker, and towards potential lead sources that children are more likely to get into them through their hand-to-mouth activity, such as dust, soil and paint.

When ceramic ware is imported, a sample from each type of ceramic ware in the shipping container is supposed to be tested for lead and cadmium by Customs so you could also ask the retailer to ask the importer to provide you with the laboratory analysis for your particular cooker. But you still have the problem that the standard has not been revised for decades....

All your problems would be solved by the finding that the entire family have blood lead levels below 2 g/dL. Why don't you check that possibility out first, and get back to me if you still have concerns?

Yours Sincerely

Elizabeth O'Brien

See: Lead alert facts: Lead in ceramics

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