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VPR Suspends Artist Mug Series After Lead Tests

The fall 2005 artist mug tested above the FDA lead limit

Vermont Public Radio says one series of its ceramic mugs distributed during station fundraisers exceeds Food and Drug Administration limits for lead content.

VPR says as a result of questions raised by the recent lead testing, it will suspend the practice of issuing artist mugs to listeners.

Questions about the VPR mugs were raised last month when a listener reported that tests on one of them indicated a high level of lead apparently in the ink used in the printed design.

In response, the station says it had tests conducted on 34 different mugs it’s distributed over the years. The results showed lead in the ink used on the exterior design of 11 different mugs issued between 2002 and 2011. 

The station then sent those 11 designs to a New Hampshire lab for additional testing to determine the presence of lead in the ceramic itself, which was manufactured in China.

The ceramic testing is the one used to determine if ceramic ware meets the FDA safety standard.

That standard is based on the amount of ‘extractable’ lead – which is lead a person could be exposed to when using a product.

According to VPR, the lead content in a mug distributed in the fall of 2005 exceeded the FDA standard. VPR is advising that its use be discontinued. The mug features an artist’s rendering of an old pickup truck. About 1,000 listeners received mugs from that particular series.

The test results have caused the station to suspend for now the tradition of distributing the artist mugs in membership drives. Brendan Kinney is VPR vice president for development and marketing.

“What we need to know is moving forward if we can continue the series, if we can do so in a manner that meets our standards and the federal standards as well,” Kinney says. “There is a chance that the series could make a comeback in the future. Some of the things we are looking at are the use of USA mugs.”

As for the other 10 mug designs that the earlier test indicated contained lead in the ink, VPR says they all meet FDA requirements.

Last month, the Vermont Attorney General’s office said it was looking into whether a Vermont law regulating children’s exposure to lead should also apply to the mugs.

Unlike the FDA law, which applies only to extractable lead, the Vermont standard is based on lead content.

Kinney says the station has not been informed of any decision by the Attorney General. 

“We have answered some questions from the Attorney General’s office and given them some information.  Our mugs were designed for adult use and so they meet the requirements for what’s called general use under the FDA guidelines,” he says.

Kinney says all of the remaining VPR mugs designs produced since 2002 have been sent off for testing. Results are expected by the end of the month.

The mugs point up the prevalence of lead in consumer products.  Bob Zatzke, the lead program coordinator with the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, says lead was once used widely domestically and it is still used in some imported products, especially those from Mexico and China.

“It’s literally impossible to stay on top of everything that is sold in the United States or imported.  No one has the ability to check all of them all the time. Stuff slips through all the time,” says Zatzke.

Zatzke says because children are the most at risk from lead exposure and because 65% of Vermont’s housing stock was constructed before 1978, lead paint continues to present the greatest danger.

An earlier version of this story stated that 65% of Vermont's housing stock was constructed before 1968.  Lead paint was banned in 1978.

Steve has been with VPR since 1994, first serving as host of VPR’s public affairs program and then as a reporter, based in Central Vermont. Many VPR listeners recognize Steve for his special reports from Iran, providing a glimpse of this country that is usually hidden from the rest of the world. Prior to working with VPR, Steve served as program director for WNCS for 17 years, and also worked as news director for WCVR in Randolph. A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Steve also worked for stations in Phoenix and Tucson before moving to Vermont in 1972. Steve has been honored multiple times with national and regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for his VPR reporting, including a 2011 win for best documentary for his report, Afghanistan's Other War.
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