Ceramic Industry

SPECIAL SECTION/DECORATING: Understanding Heavy Metal Limits

April 1, 2008
The Society of Glass and Ceramic Decorators supports responsible efforts to assure that glass and ceramic products do not pose health problems or harm the environment.

In October 2007, the Society of Glass and Ceramic Decorators (SGCD) released an updated white paper entitled “Lead and Other Heavy Metals: Where Does the Decorating Industry Stand?” In producing the myriad styles of decorative glass and ceramic items, decorators traditionally have used a variety of substances to finish the product, add necessary glazes and achieve the desired color spectrum. Among these substances are certain metals, such as lead.

In recent years, much has been said about the use of heavy metals, including lead, in a broad range of products. The subject emerges from time to time in the mainstream media in reports on laws and regulations that impact the use of lead in glass and ceramic products. Certain media elements have also attempted, on occasion, to “sensationalize” reports of lead in consumer products. Some groups, particularly those lacking knowledge of all of the facts, unnecessarily alarm the public.

Unfortunately, this can sometimes result in confusion for those who purchase such items. Some individuals believe certain requirements apply to particular items when they do not apply, or that everything must be “bad” if the product includes any lead at all. In fact, there are no known cases of commercially produced glass and ceramic ware purchased in the U.S. making anyone sick.

The SGCD’s goal for the white paper is to provide, in a concise and understandable manner, the current status of various laws and regulations concerning heavy metals, such as lead, that impact decorated glass and ceramic ware. The full text of the white paper, available for SGCD members only, includes additional background information and details regarding current Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards for ceramic foodware, lip and rim area, and purely decorative ware; the Environmental Protection Agency’s toxic release inventory reporting; state packaging legislation; state statutes, including California Proposition 65; ware produced in China; and test procedures and labs.

The Future

The SGCD will continue to support all responsible efforts to assure that glass and ceramic products do not pose health problems or harm the environment. In fact, glass and ceramic products enjoy a number of advantages over other products in the environmental context. As many consumers have recognized, a ceramic mug, dinner plate or glass tumbler can be reused thousands of times over a number of years. When compared to plastic cups or Styrofoam containers that are discarded after a single use, it is easy to see that glass and ceramic products reduce the amount of waste material.

In addition, many glass items can be recycled. This is especially true of glass containers that are often recycled to produce new glass products. As glass packaging thrown away by consumers is increasingly collected in many communities, more and more glass can be recycled. Glass has become a renewable resource, and we should stress this feature and encourage the use of glass.

As with most controversial situations, it is important that hasty proposals to correct imaginary or misunderstood “problems” not be given the force of law. Possible substitute materials must be evaluated to determine whether or not they will present unsafe situations. Banning some products might mean the increased use of others that present their own health or environmental problems. For these reasons, careful consideration of all proposals is necessary.

For years, the SGCD has worked with the FDA and other federal agencies, as well as state governments and Congress, to develop responsible standards. We actively encourage compliance among all segments of the industry.

For more information regarding heavy metal limits, contact the SGCD Public Affairs Office at 1444 I St., NW, Suite 700, Washington, DC 20005; (703) 838-2810; fax (202) 216-9646; e-mail andyb@sgcd.org; or visit www.sgcd.org.