I was pretty devastated when I read vintage Pyrex, as a general rule, has high levels of lead. I had registered for a lot of vintage Pyrex for my wedding and had been happily cooking in them for months, thinking I was actually using a healthier option for food storage because it was glass, not plastic. I really loved the size and convenience of them along with how they look! In fact, I kind of swept the lead info under the rug for a while because I just didn't want to believe it. If it was really that poison, why do so many people use and collect it still?
Many of you remarked on my last post about my Pyrex succulent garden that you had never heard about Pyrex possibly containing high amounts of lead. I had just mentioned that in the post to explain why I turned the containers into planters, but the number of shocked responses made me think I should write a more in-depth post about Pyrex and lead content to help you guys determine if your own Pyrex pieces may be unsafe for you.
That being said, there is not a clear, definite answer determining whether all pre-1979 Pyrex is safe or not. It really depends on who you ask and what kind of Pyrex it is, so in this post I've gathered lots of information in hopes you will be better informed in making your own choice.
Carissa of Creative Green Living has written a great post about Pyrex and lead. Basically, her points boil down to this:
- The lead is largely in the paint on the outside of the bowl.
- The milk glass can still have lead in it, though it is probably inert. Scratches and wearing down of the glass by acidic foods may cause lead to leach out, however.
- There are no lab tests being done on the milk glass portion, though, so there is no definite answer to define when this breaking-down and leaching stage may start.
- Even if lead is just on the outside, it comes off in microscopic amounts every time you stack a bowl inside another, wipe it down with a dish cloth, wash it, etc.
- At-home lead tests are available, but they only test paint accurately, not the milk glass.
If you're more of a movie person, there's a documentary out called "MisLEAD: America's Secret Epidemic" that goes into more detail about lead poisoning in America, especially as it relates to children. (This links to the trailer as the documentary is forthcoming.)
So what about specific items? I've found the Lead Safe America foundation to be one of the best sources for Pyrex-specific contamination information. Here are just some of the specifically-tested items I've found:
As a baseline, 90 parts per million or below is considered an acceptable level of lead for children (although no level of lead is really "safe").
Vintage Pyrex green casserole dish
White paint: 110,000 ppm lead
Green paint: 61,900 ppm lead
Inside milk glass: 175 ppm lead
Vintage Pyrex nesting bowls
As high as 81,900 ppm lead
Vintage blue and white Pyrex dish
Blue paint: 30,600 ppm lead
Vintage yellow Pyrex casserole dish
Yellow paint: 212,000 ppm lead
Inside milk glass: 395 ppm lead
Vintage red Pyrex refrigerator dish
Red paint: 53,900 ppm lead
Are you as freaked out as I was when I first saw those numbers?! I was expecting a bit of lead, but not in the TENS OF THOUSANDS!
Lead poisoning is especially tricky because there are no obvious symptoms for it until really, really high levels of it have accumulated in the body. Children under 6 are especially vulnerable and can experience worse effects at lower exposure. (You can read about lead poisoning on this Mayo Clinic page.)
So are you properly terrified and convinced we're living in a dangerous world? I know this is a lot of scary information, especially for those of you that have children.
However, not all vintage dishes have such huge amounts of lead.
Here are some dishes that tested negative or low for lead content:
Milk Glass Fire King Bowl
Tested negative for lead!
(Not all plain milk glass is lead-free, but it is definitely in far lower amounts than painted pieces, IF there is lead in them at all.)
Fire King Jadeite ovenware mug
193 ppm lead
Jadeite is generally considered far safer than Pyrex to use as far as lead content goes. Not all jadeite has even trace amounts of lead.
Cut Glass tray
Tested negative for lead!
SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR MY PYREX COLLECTION?!
I had the same thought after reading several articles. I felt betrayed by the glass that I thought would be healthier, not to mention frustrated at all the time and money I had spent researching and purchasing Pyrex. I know that for many of you, too, Pyrex has a very special place in your heart because you mixed up cookies in it with your mom, or you have that dish that was passed down from your grandmother. It's scary to think these pieces we love so much probably have lead in them.
However, it's up to you to decide what you consider an acceptable risk. If you have children, you may want to be more sensitive to risks of Pyrex versus if you're an adult living on your own. How you use your Pyrex is also a factor. Perhaps, like me, you may decide not to use your Pyrex in food prep but you're alright with keeping it on a shelf as a decorative item. You can also put your Pyrex in a glass collector case to be even more protected from the lead content while also still being able to enjoy its beauty. Now you know, and the choice is yours.
What if I don't want to use Pyrex for food at all now? Are there still cute dishes in the world?!
Never fear, there are indeed many good vintage-aesthetic options that are safe for you to use. Here are some of my favorite dishware styles available:
Cast ironA timeless classic, cast iron is healthy to use, lasts forever, and seasons over time to add great flavor to your dishes. I mean, come on, how cute are the cornbread trays shaped like ears of corn?! As an added bonus, you also build muscles lifting cast iron in your kitchen!
The modern Pyrex company has created some items, like the "Vintage Charm" pieces, that look older but are safe. Clear Pyrex is also a good option.
Solid and spattered enamelware are also looks used in yesteryear's kitchens, and there are beautiful reproductions available from companies like Crow Canyon Home.
Dishes made of cut glass are plentiful in both modern and vintage options, and both are safe to use. Vintage ones can be affordably priced, and the clear color means they match everything!
As we talked about above, jadeite is a generally safer option. New, reproduction jadeite is a very safe kind to use, and it's readily available in many places!
So what are your thoughts? How conflicted are your feelings for your own Pyrex dishes? Knowing what you know now, how do you think you will use or not use your vintage Pyrex pieces?