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Posted on: March 30, 2019 at 9:40 am
Last updated: April 5, 2019 at 5:15 pm

Do you remember that beautiful daffodil yellow Tupperware either your parents or grandparents had? It may bring back nostalgic memories of potato salad, baking cookies, or afternoon Tang, but there may be a reason to throw it out. As it turns out, they can be extremely high in heavy metals.  According to Environmental Activist, Tamara Rubin,  

Lead (Pb) levels found were found to be as high as 2,780 parts per million (ppm), Mercury (Hg) levels were found to be as high as 1,058 ppm and Cadmium (Cd) levels were as high as 3,380 ppm.” 

Tamara Rubin, also known as the “Lead Safe Mama”, ran the Lead Safe America Foundation from 2011 to 2016. The non-profit organization is aimed at protecting children from hazards caused by lead found around their homes, schools, playgrounds, and elsewhere [1]She was even the parent advocate behind the discovery of extremely dangerous lead levels found in fidget spinner toys, a discovery she made in 2017 [2].

How did she end up doing this? Unfortunately, in 2005, Tamara’s sons suffered lead-poisoning from the pre-painting preparation techniques a contractor used in their home [3].  Various lead-releasing practices were used such as open flame torch burning, dry scraping, and pressure washing. One of Rubin’s sons was dramatically affected, suffering permanent brain damage as a 7-month-old infant.

Since 2009, the mother of four has made it her life’s work to test household items and kids’ toys that could potentially lead to lead poisoning. She uses her website and social media platforms to raise awareness about these items so that other parents can protect their kids as well.

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XRF Testing

Rubin uses a method popularly utilized by The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), known as XRF testing to check for harmful metals in household items [4]. The most common hazardous metals include lead, cadmium, arsenic, and mercury.  

To use XRF testing, a person must obtain a certificate. Following her training in February 2009, Rubin was awarded a certificate and a license to use an XRF analyzer [5].

This technology involves the emission of an X-ray beam from an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer. Excitation of the molecules caged within the object or sample will cause an emission of secondary x-rays, which are analyzed to figure out the composition of the material elements it contains.

In a 2013 study, researchers from the California Department of Public Health Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch cited XRF as “an effective screening method for food and similar items with lead content > or = 10 ppm [parts per million], provided the operator is trained to identify lead spectra [6].”

XRF test results of daffodil yellow-colored Tupperware

Founded in 1946, Tupperware Brands Corporation is a domestic products line that produces mostly plastic kitchenware and utensils [7]. They’ve been around for so long, their products are household names mostly just referred to as Tupperware.

Tupperware plastics come in several colors: green, orange, yellow, red, brown, and daffodil yellow. The brand produces everything from bowls and cups to measuring cups and water jugs. The compositions vary between materials under each color.

Rubin’s experiment was centered on daffodil-yellow-colored measuring cups [8]. Through XRF testing, she was able to obtain the compositions of several metals found in the plastic in parts per million (ppm).

They read as follows:

  • Lead (Pb): 2,103 +/- 41 ppm 
  • Arsenic (As): 250 +/- 28 ppm 
  • Chromium (Cr): 735 +/- 68 ppm
  • Zinc (Zn): 463 +/- 18 ppm
  • Nickel (Ni): 20 +/- 8 ppm
  • Iron (Fe): 51 +/- 19 ppm
  • Vanadium (V): 239 +/- 155 ppm
  • Titanium (Ti): 10,100 +/- 400 ppm

Lead and arsenic are in red to indicate dangerously hazardous levels. Chronic exposure to high levels of lead can affect a child’s brain and nervous system development. Adults may become more susceptible to kidney failure and high blood pressure.

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Arsenic is extremely poisonous and should not be found in any cookware or kitchen item, no matter how low the amount may be. 250 ppm of an element as poisonous as arsenic is definitely something to worry about. She tested several other Tupperware items in different colors, and lead was found to be highly present ion each of them, amounting to as high as 2730 ppm in some of them [9].

Some believe there is no safe level of level. Experts may argue that anything below 90 ppm may be considered non-toxic for children’s use, but it’s always better to completely avoid lead-containing items.

Why are these metals, especially lead, present in household items?

In 1978, the United States CPSC banned “lead content of over 0.06 percent in paints and coatings to which children have access and that no feasible consumer product safety standard under the CPSA would adequately protect the public from this risk. The 0.06 percent is reduced to 0.009 percent effective August 14, 2009 [10].” 

It’s true that Tupperware has been around long before that ban was made. That’s why it’s important not to retain any old Tupperware plastics in your home. Many people still use these to package food, cook, scoop water, measure baking ingredients and so on.

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According to Rubin, “many of these vintage Tupperware pieces have been kept in regular daily service for their 40+ years of life and may have considerable wear and deterioration as a result of decades of heavy regular use. So even if they were not leaching at the time of manufacture they may be leaching now.”

Aside from this, several modern companies have been found to use a considerably dangerous amount of lead in their products, despite the ban. Children touch these things. Toddlers put them in their mouths and roll around the floors these items may have been on. Parents have to take extra care to ensure the household items and toys they’re purchasing are lead-free [11].

A 2015 review by Dr. Gillian Zaharias Miller of Ecology Center explains the source of leads and most other metallic components in the plastics to be from coloring and pigmentation [12].

“The metals are almost certainly colorants or pigments. Lead chromate, PbCrO4, also known as chrome yellow, was a standard plastic colorant in the era in which [vintage, non-vinyl] toys were made. Lead sulfate (PbSO4) and lead oxide (PbO) were mixed with the chromate in varying amounts to produce a color palette from light yellow to red. Similarly, cadmium compounds such as cadmium sulfide and cadmium selenide were— and still are—used to produce yellow and orange hues in plastics. Mercury cadmium sulfides were also used to produce colors from orange to maroon.”

While there is a difference between the amount in a product and the amount we absorb, Rubin’s advice should still be strongly considered. As a mother who has watched her children suffer at the hands of lead poisoning, she knows first-hand what the lead safety cause is all about. Lead-containing material shouldn’t be allowed in the home, and certainly not close to children. To be a lead-safe parent, we need to be aware.

If you would like to learn more about childhood lead poisoning prevention and awareness you can visit Tamara Rubin’s Webpage, or find her on Facebook! 

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