Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Lead found in ceramics from Philadelphia's Chinatown

Exploring Chinatown after moving to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital last summer, emergency-room doctor Gerald F. O'Malley noticed brightly colored ceramic cookware for sale everywhere. It triggered decade-old memories of treating Mexican children in Denver whose lead poisoning he had suspected - but never got a chance to test - was due to pottery from home. Could that be happening here?

Lead found in ceramics from Philadelphia's Chinatown

A LeadCheck swab, used to test a soupspoon purchased in Chinatown, turns bright red, indicating the presence of lead.
A LeadCheck swab, used to test a soupspoon purchased in Chinatown, turns bright red, indicating the presence of lead. MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer

Exploring Chinatown after moving to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital last summer, emergency-room doctor Gerald F. O'Malley noticed brightly colored ceramic cookware for sale everywhere. It triggered decade-old memories of treating Mexican children in Denver whose lead poisoning he had suspected - but never got a chance to test - was due to pottery from home.

Could that be happening here?

O'Malley quickly assembled a team of medical students to purchase and screen several dozen glazed plates, cups, spoons, and teapots. The initial results: 25 percent of the items from Chinatown shops contained lead, as did 10 percent of Chinese-made products bought elsewhere.

Public-health officials say there is no evidence that the decorated tableware has caused elevated lead levels in children, which are carefully tracked. But much about lead remains unknown. And the minimum level believed capable of harming a developing brain has been lowered repeatedly.

At the very least, confirmation of the Chinatown findings - the screenings, using a swab intended for home use, indicated only lead's unexpected presence, not its quantity - could suggest another hole in the nation's food-safety system, and one more potential worry for consumers. READ MORE

About this blog

Check Up is a blog for savvy health consumers, covering the latest developments, discoveries, and debates from the Philadelphia area and beyond.

Portions of this blog may also be found in the Inquirer's Sunday Health Section.

Charlotte Sutton Health and Science Editor, Philadelphia Inquirer
Tom Avril Inquirer Staff Writer, heart health and general science
Stacey Burling Inquirer Staff Writer, neuroscience and aging
Marie McCullough Inquirer Staff Writer, cancer and women's health
Michael R. Cohen, R.Ph. President, Institute for Safe Medication Practices
Daniel R. Hoffman, Ph.D. President, Pharmaceutical Business Research Associates
Hooman Noorchashm, M.D., Ph.D. Cardiothoracic surgeon in the Philadelphia area
Amy J. Reed, M.D., Ph.D. Anesthesiologist and Surgical Intensivist in the Philadelphia Area
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