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Giving Tuesday 2015: LSAF XRF

Below is a public comment someone made on our Facebook page this past weekend:

pyrexbowslWhy we do what we do…

In response to a post sharing the results of our free XRF testing of some popular vintage Pyrex dishes that readers have brought to us to test for lead, one of our Facebook followers posted the following comment:

gb1“I think people need to do their own research before blindly discarding their valuables. And please don’t throw your vintage dishes out….Don’t immediately believe everything you see on Facebook, either. It reminds me of The War of the Worlds radio broadcast scare. I am pretty sure if Pyrex was so toxic, Pyrex themselves would be the first to caution against using it. And asking for donations in this post is not the classiest thing to do, IMHO.”

Wow. Besides simply not understanding that we are a nonprofit, solely supported by donations from the public, this comment illustrates a common mis-perception regarding life in the modern world: that certainly, some entity surely MUST be actively monitoring/testing/policing historically mass-produced consumer goods (including extremely popular vintage items and cherished antiques and family heirlooms) for the presence of high levels of dangerous toxicants like lead [which is horribly neurotoxic to children in even trace amounts]!

Unfortunately, there exists no entity, no agency, no regulation that addresses the ubiquitous presence of toxicants in antique or vintage consumer goods.

That is precisely why we felt compelled to offer free XRF testing of these items.

Also when huge, well-known companies like Pyrex [that have mass-produced consumer goods for many decades—long before any such regulations existed] are approached about toxicity in  their vintage wares, their response is almost always what Pyrex’s response was, in fact, regarding these items (paraphrasing from a longer response): 

“We have always followed regulatory guidelines for toxicity in manufacturing.”

This kind of response is terribly misleading of course, because at the time many of these products were manufactured there WERE NO guidelines or limits for toxicity in the manufacture of most consumer goods [so such reassuring-sounding official statements amount to technically/legally accurate, “double-speak”—which do not have the consumer’s (or collector’s) best interest at heart.]

A bit of the history behind why we offer free consumer goods testing:

Many of you know that Lead Safe America Foundation helps families make informed choices for keep their homes free of environmental contaminants and safe for their children.

While our primary focus is lead in building components (specifically paint, water delivery systems and similar), we have found that the conversation about lead in consumer goods is often a good conversation starter for parents who are new to the topic.

Identifying consumer goods (new and old – vintage, antique or otherwise) that contain environmental toxicants (like lead, mercury, arsenic and cadmium) is seen by so many parents as a worthwhile pursuit and engages them in the conversation, specifically encouraging and inspiring them to learn about the impact these toxicants could have on their children, even in trace amounts.

It is for this reason that we have posted thousands of photos of consumer goods we have tested on our Facebook page (and that we have nearly 10,000 followers on the film’s page) and also the reason that we are bringing these photos (and their XRF reading results) here to our blog.

We are also working on creating a “traveling science museum exhibit” with many of the items we have tested over the years (folks donate items to us for the “museum” in some cases when we find out they are high in environmental contaminants.) This exhibit will include a display of common/ popular everyday household items high in lead, mercury, cadmium and arsenic as well as a kiosk with a searchable (image-based) database of consumer goods we have tested with the toxicant results we have found via XRF testing.

This conversation about toxicity in consumer goods can be a valuable tool to open the door to the (more significant and sometimes confronting) conversation about toxicity in the home environment; if a parent learns that their dishes have lead, and sees they can easily replace them with lead-free dishes it is much easier for them to then make the leap to the concern that they need to do something about lead hazards found in their dwelling—or their water or soil.

Our two main tools for fostering this awareness are the LeadCheck® swabs [so generously donated to Lead Safe America by 3M Corporation], which are an inexpensive readily-available-to-parents and easy-to-use consumer-friendly means of identifying exposed lead-based paint in your home, and of course over the years, the use of a very expensive, high-precision XRF spectrometer [an instrument, that accurately detects and measures heavy metals—in even very small quantities (it’s readings are in “ppm”—parts per million) in nearly anything—quite invaluable, given the level of toxicity currently stated by the CPSC (in terms of how much lead is considered toxic to children) is just 90 ppm in coatings [and 100 ppm in substrates].

Unfortunately, as we’ve shared before, back in March (2015) we were told by Niton/ Thermo Fisher Scientific that they would only continue loaning us an XRF instrument to use if we (paraphrasing a much longer conversation here) ‘no longer promoted, spoke about or publicy shared about any reactive agent swab testing’ (specifically the LeadCheck® swabs) with our followers/ fans/ friends and family(!)  Of course we could not agree to such a stipulation (we’ve given away more than 22,000 test kits already this year!) and, as a result, have not had our own XRF to use since we returned our loaner instrument to Niton more than a year ago.

On this “Giving Tuesday” – December 1, 2015 we are writing to you to ask you to help us get a new XRF instrument in our hands, so we can continue this vital free service educating families.

If we’re going to buy our own instrument to help families, it makes sense for Lead Safe America to have one that incorporates the most reliable, current and accurate technology available. The instrument that we have selected is the most accurate in testing for environmental contaminants in consumer goods and soil samples down to the lowest threshold; it costs $39,000.

Many fundraising experts report statistics that 20% of a non-profit’s donation revenue comes in in December. If that’s the case, we could expect to raise between $34,000 and $40,000 this month – coincidentally just enough to get one of the newest, best, most efficient, most accurate instruments—a tool that would serve us for 3 or 4 years without any additional maintenance costs.  This goal is likely not “definite” in our particular case—as we have had some unusual/generous one-time gifts and special events this year… but it is possible, especially if everyone on our list gives a little something!

So on this Giving Tuesday, we ask you to give in support of getting us a new instrument. Thanks to our Phish Rivera Maya Mexico Raffle, we have enough to cover the Foundation’s basic expense (and continued work on the film) for a few months and we can therefore apply any funds raised in December of 2015 towards getting this new instrument so we can continue to help families. There’s a Donate button here on the sidebar… just click it and make a one-time donation OR “go big”—and click the “Make This Recurring (Monthly)” checkbox for a gesture that will support us now and in the future.

Anyone who donates $75 or more this December (or sets up a recurring donation of at least $20 a month as a monthly gift) will get a “Lead Safe America” t-shirt sent to them too!

Thank you so much for your ongoing support of our working helping families everywhere!

The Lead Safe America Foundation Team


2 Responses to Giving Tuesday 2015: LSAF XRF

  1. Dale P Nystrom MD December 1, 2015 at 12:40 pm #


    It is possible the lead will not leach out of the Pyrex. A better test would be to boil water in the Pyrex container and test the water for lead before and after boiling.

    Dr. Nystrom

  2. Karen December 2, 2015 at 7:53 am #

    Dr. Nystrom and Tamara,

    I think you are onto a good idea, but maybe trying an acidic agent would be better. Acidic foods and liquids increased lead concentrations in past experiments with lead containing kitchenware. I suspect wear and tear over the years, could also agitate the lead to leach into foods too.


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