PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The safety of ceramic kitchenware that contains lead is being investigated by the FDA. Philadelphia doctors uncovered the problem in Chinatown, but say the dangers could be widespread. 3 On Your Side Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl has more.

Chinatown is a popular destination, mainly for the food and shopping for decorative tableware. But some local doctors say the plates, bowels and spoons could contain dangerous levels of lead.

A Thomas Jefferson University Hospital research team tested 87 items purchased from 18 stores, mainly in Chinatown. 25 percent tested positive for high levels of lead.

“As a toxicologist, as a physician, as a father, I’m very concerned, said Dr. Gerald O’Malley, an Emergency Room Physician at Jefferson. He led the study says lead exposure can affect the central nervous system, and be especially dangerous to children.

“We just haven’t really appreciated this as a potential source of lead contamination,” said Dr. O’Malley.

The items were tested with a swab that detects surface lead. The researchers were initially shocked.

Stephanie asked Dr. Thomas Gilmore, also involved in the research at Jefferson, if he would eat soup with one of the spoons that tested positive for lead.

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Dr. Gilmore replied, “I think any item that has lead in it I would try to avoid.”

The Jefferson team advised stores where the items were purchased of the lead danger.

Some said the items would be removed from store shelves. But Stephanie checked some of the locations and found the suspect tableware. Store managers were not available for comment.

“I think that’s terrible. And that makes me think twice about where I’m eating, and about what I should be doing,” said Payal Mehta, who likes to visit Chinatown.

Others said they think it should be pulled off the market.

The lead contaminated ceramics were also found outside Chinatown.

Researchers say they’d be weary about any decorative ceramics made in Asia and South America.

“It’s a very beautiful item. But I don’t think that I would eat off this. I don’t think I would have this is my home for my family to use,” said Dr. Gilmore.

The Jefferson is continuing to determine how much lead could leach out into food, and federal health officials are also looking into the finding.


LeadCheck Swabs
Lead Poisoning Information
Preventing Childhood Lead Poisoning
Thomas Jefferson University Hospital’s Department of Emergency Medicine

Reported by Stephanie Stahl, CBS 3

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