Update: Chinatown lead glazes story

 

Is this spoon contaminated with lead glaze? Similar spoons found in Philadelphia's Chinatown were contaminated. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Recently, I covered a story about lead glazes found in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s Chinatown, having learned of it in a New York Times story, which can be found here. There has been an appreciable amount of traffic on the Internet about this issue. Study result numbers have also surfaced and they are startling enough to warrant an update, as over 25% of the samples tested positive for lead. The story centers on Dr. Gerald O’Malley, who saw bright glazes on ceramic cookware as he strolled through Philly’s Chinatown. After cocking an eyebrow, he decided it was worth investigating. The results of his tests are alarming. In addition, he said that if they were found in Philadelphia, similar products could be found in other Chinatowns. Vancouver, B.C. has a big Chinatown and I, myself, have entertained buying products similar to those shown in the photo of the Times article, the porcelain spoons glazed in yellow, turquoise and red. They are accompanied by matching pieces. I cannot say for a fact that the pieces I have seen are contaminated; however, after reading about this study, the chances are high. The story broke in the Daily Dose on Feb. 18, in an article by Josh Goldstein which can be found here. He wrote about Dr. Gerald O’Malley’s study and a previous one which focused on Mexican ceramics with lead glazes. The numbers: “Twenty-two of the items from Chinatown stores were lead-positive – 25.3 percent – compared with 5 of the items from stores outside Chinatown – 10.2 percent.” O’Malley is a toxicologist who works in the Emergency Room at Jefferson University Hospital, one of the best hospitals in the United States. Goldstein writes that “Dr. O’Malley was involved in a study that found lead leaching into food from glazed pottery that came from Mexico and was the cause of a pervasive lead poisoning problem among Denver’s Hispanic population.” O’Malley, Dr. Thomas Gilmore and 14 medical students from Jefferson formed a study team, then proceeded to buy samples. The kitchenware they bought totalled “87 items (plates, cups, spoons, etc) from 18 stores in Chinatown and a comparison of 49 items of similar cost imported from China from five stores outside of that neighborhood,” states Goldstein. After the samples were cleaned, they were tested with LeadCheck, an inexpensive testing swab. O’Malley and his team couldn’t believe what they found. Goldstein reports O’Malley as saying “We were astounded – astounded – to find so many of them positive for lead.” While I was tempted to buy the colored porcelain spoons, I opted for clear glazed ones, which are probably safe because it is the brightly colored glazes that contained lead. I really need to check, though. How many people have been affected by such products, which have been available for years and years? O’Malley thinks this is a source of lead contamination that has gone unrecognized. Which begs the question…how many Vancouver Chinatown residents are affected? According to the 2006 census, Vancouver’s East and Southeast Asian population totals 27.88%, almost 600,000 people. We need to get to the bottom of this and, as O’Malley suggests, such lead contamination is unrecognized. Lead poisoning affects people of all ages, but especially children, causing permanent behavior and learning disorders. It affects bones, intestines, the heart, kidneys and reproductive organs. O’Malley has notified the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and asked that further testing be done. The study team is working with Philadelphia’s Chinatown Health Clinic, too, according to Goldstein. It looks like a mass screening of the Chinatown population will be taking place. Shopkeepers are also being educated about the hidden dangers of lead contaminated from tainted cookware. At no time did O’Malley blame the shopkeepers because, as reported previously, they were completely unaware of the problem. Goldstein also reports the response of the Chair of Emergency Medicine at Jefferson University Hospital, Dr. Theodore Christopher. He said, “This is an important study that will heighten the awareness of lead contamination in many different sources. It also confirms that medical professionals need to do a more in-depth job of assessing a patient’s social history and background, which may play a very important role in diagnosis of symptoms.” A related article can be found in Food Safety News. More follow-up is needed at the local level and I will see what I can find out. But be proactive. If you have ceramic kitchen ware with brightly colored glazes from either Mexico or China, find out if it is contaminated with lead glaze by using a LeadCheck kit that can be purchased at these locations.

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