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food safety (fwd)

updated sat 22 apr 00 on thu 20 apr 00

> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> Date: Wed, 19 Apr 2000 14:27:32 EDT
> From: Norman van der Sluys
> Reply-To: Ceramic Arts Discussion List
> Subject: Food Safety
> Resent-Subject: Food Safety
> ----------------------------Original message----------------------------
> ----------------------------Original message----------------------------
> Monona,
> If Glass and ceramic products inevitably leach metals into foods what
> are the alternatives? Is it really "safer" to eat from paper plates and
> drink from paper cups? How about wax and plastic coatings, and foam
> plastic cups? Polycarbonates? Are there not contaminants other than
> metals that can affect health and we need be concerned about? <

That is a really interesting question. The FDA has leach tests for all kinds
of substances from plastic and paper food containers. For a company to get
approval to manufacture food containers, only certain chemicals can be used
for which these standards are met. As you might guess, I think some of these
standards are not good enough either.

One worry you have mentioned above you can forget--and replace it with
another worry. That is the plastics. While styrene and other plastic
monomers (building block chemicals) are very toxic, polystyrene and other
"polymers" or plastics are not. So the plastic itself is not a problem.

But poorly manufactured plastics still have some of the toxic monomer present
in them. And there are many, many additives to the plastic that may leach
into food. Most plastics contain plasticizers, antioxidants, dyes (white
plastics usually contain blue or fluorescent white dyes to make it look
whiter), inhibitors, defoamers (left over from the manufacturing process),
etc. etc. etc. These are the substances which are getting into our food from
the plastics and which are regulated.

Paper also has many additives to keep it water proof, looking white, etc.
Food grade wax is not a hazard by ingestion. (Inhalation of wax fume or wax
decomposition products is hazardous.)

The FDA gives "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) status to many highly
toxic chemicals as long as manufacturers can prove they do not leach from the
plastic or paper food containers in amounts above their standards.

(One of the favorite tricks of companies that sell chemicals is to tell
consumers that the substance they sell is so safe that FDA considers it GRAS.
Don't ever be fooled by that. You want to ask precisely what it is approved
for because GRAS status is always highly limited. You also want to know that
exposure by inhalation is not considered in GRAS status. That's why fumed
silica is GRAS for use in your food in tiny amounts such as for keeping the
little grains in your salt separated. Silica particles are not a hazard by

> I think the anger you sensed in response to your early posts on this
> thread were due to a real fear that legislation will eventually be
> passed that reduces the potter's options still further. <

If you knew how long legislation and/or regulation takes, you would not be
worried for many years. It is far more likely to be a public relations

A good example is the lead candle wick problem. Lead fume from this source
has been known for decades. Then it became a public relations problem when
data became available a couple years ago showing that burning candles can
raise the lead content in house dust above the housing standard! Even then,
the Consumer Product Safety Commission didn't move. They said that lead
wicks aren't used in the US anymore so no point banning them.

So next the activists had to buy a bunch of candles at Banana Republic and
the Gap that had lead wicks, and also to show that some craft stores still
carry the lead wicks for crafters who make candles. Still no action.

Now CPSC has received formal petitions: One from Public Citizen, and the
other a joint petition from the National Apartment Association and the
National Multi Housing Council. Now CPSC has to get busy. This past
Wednesday (April 12), they published an announcement of receipt of the two
petitions and have opened the question of banning the lead wicked candles to
public comment until June 12.

But here you can see a problem that was known for decades that didn't get any
action until it became a public issue. And even then, I'll bet the ban will
take another six months to a year. And this is a ban that is not opposed by
the major US candle makers who don't want the imported lead-containing stuff
on the market giving them a bad name.

> Lead has gone
> away for us, barium is at the least very politically incorrect, lithium
> conjures up the spectre of mental illness. Are we to be denied the use
> of aluminium and iron as well? And are you really giving the public a
> choice when you point out a small potential hazard in one material
> without offering an alternative? <

In the case of aluminum, there really is no alternative. The only strategies
are 1) to let people know that metals of various kinds--including
aluminum--can leach from ceramics; and 2) continue efforts to make really
stable glazes so we can demonstrate that the amounts released shouldn't be of

If the public feels that this problem is under control, that information is
not lacking or being withheld, they may never see any reason to call for

> Of course it is beyond the scope of any one individual to make
> definitive statements about such a broad and complex subject as "what is
> safe to eat from", but as potters we need to know not only the dangers
> involved in the use of our products but also their safety relative to
> available alternatives. The current attitude that we should minimise
> risk at all costs looms as potentially very risky for some vocations!
> Norman van der Sluys

I agree with knowing about the alternatives as well. The world is not made
of Nerf. All things have their down side. But without knowledge of the
problems, we can't make reasonable choices.

Monona Rossol
181 Thompson St., # 23
NYC NY 10012-2586 212/777-0062

Kathi LeSueur on fri 21 apr 00

One of the things I learned when I trained to be a hospice volunteer is that
the longer a person lives, the higher the chance of dying of cancer. By the
time you hit 80 (not uncommon anymore) your risk factor is approaching 90%.
Life itself seems to be toxic and if exposed to it long enough will result in

That said, it would seem that the common sense approach is the best. Try to
take reasonable precautions in your studio. Mop or get a vaccuum with HEPA
filter. Keep your studio clean. Not so you can eat off of the floor, but so
that you aren't crunching clay every time you take a step. Wear a mask when
mixing glaze, and adequately vent your kilns (put them in a separate room or
building if at all possible.

And, accept the fact that, despite all of the precautions you take to protect
yourself, you are going to die. Hopefully later rather than sooner.

Kathi LeSueur