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Lead In Pottery

2009 July 16

I’ve always liked ceramics and earthenware. The color pottery sold in ethnic markets or overseas has a special appeal to me. There are even special recipes that are supposed to be cooked using earthenware such as cazuela de mariscos (seafood casserole) among others.

While some of these pottery and dishes might decorate many a kitchen across America, there is a risk that these ceramics may contain a dangerous element—lead. Yes, lead is a heavy metal that has harmful health effects, especially among babies and young children. Lead can cause serious damage to the brain and nervous system in young children. It also causes behavioral and learning problems and deafness. In adults, it can cause reproductive disorders and hypertension among other health problems. Although dust and paint chips from old lead based paint are the primary source of exposure, this toxic metal can come from other sources as well. Lead is occasionally used in the terra cotta clay or colorful glaze that decorates earthenware. If it is not baked properly, it can leach into the food or liquids contained in the pottery. Furthermore, with the daily wear and tear, the pottery can chip or crack enabling the lead to come in contact with the food. Many pottery makers, even overseas, are taking increasing measures to eliminate lead from ceramic glazes, but there are always risks.

So, we’re not telling you to dispose of all family heirlooms made of pottery or all the earthenware and ceramics purchased from abroad. We recommend, however, that you put these ceramics aside if you believe they might have some lead content. Use them for decorative purposes. Just don’t use them for cooking or holding food or beverages.

If you live in a home built before 1978 when the federal government banned lead-based paint in residential housing or you fear other routes of exposure, you can have blood test to allay your fears. Lead poisoning in children is preventable. A simple blood test is the first step.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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8 Responses leave one →
  1. Leigh Rose permalink
    July 16, 2009


    I enjoyed your article and felt it’s alert is much needed in this day and age when consumers would like to contribute to a global economy where shopping in places like “The World Market” and others could lead to buying pottery made from lead based paint or when shopping while traveling to Mexico, especially since it’s very close to the USA, could be disastrous without the adequate knowledge, insight and forethought when shopping. Please don’t leave out these messages about these resources for consumers in you future articles. Sincerely, LR

  2. Amrita permalink
    July 20, 2009

    Hi !

    Pottery is really a very stylish, decorative and beautiful work of art.
    Yes, Lead can be dangerous if not managed properly. Lead exposure can harm young children and babies even before they are born. Even children who seem healthy can have high levels of lead in their bodies.

  3. alexis diaz permalink
    September 30, 2010

    This information bring many enlightenment, thanks for the post I knew many things about the lead, how dangerous it is by using pottery which I am actually not aware of this.

  4. Justin permalink
    December 14, 2010

    Most of my pottery is used for decorative purposes… it’s too beautiful to actually serve food in, IMO.

  5. cathy permalink
    January 19, 2011

    Definitely, pottery can be an art. Thanks for the info.

  6. River permalink
    July 19, 2011

    The pottery in my home is all decorative. I buy pottery, or have it made by friends for decoration and would not think to use it. I know a lot of people think it is a waste to just let it sit, but I like the look of pottery and don’t want to have it break if it gets used. I now have a great response to tell the people who think I am wasting it. I can say that it may contain lead and therefore it is for decoration. Thanks for the post

  7. Car Crash permalink
    November 2, 2011

    The writing is still relevant. After all, how many books are still published each year on gardening and interior design? High society is still well covered by newspapers and magazines also – nothing changes too much it would seem

  8. Cooper Mays permalink
    March 18, 2012

    If pottery is hand made, ask the potter. These days very little use of lead. Potters who make wares for food serving are aware of this danger and do not use lead. Some decorative wares may have lead. One need only ask the potter. There are plenty of test kits for lead content. And, don’t be surprised of commercially made ceramic wares have lead. That would be the real danger today, as industry is always trying to cut costs within the laws. The US allows a minimal amount of lead in manufacturing, whereas potters know better than to use it at all.

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