Thursday, January 05, 2006

Questions About Lead in Clawfoot Bathtubs

I like to share some of the more interesting questions from our customers. Recently, one of our customers wrote us: “Hello! My husband and I bought two lovely claw tubs with accessories in the summer of 2005. I am wondering if there is any lead in the cast iron tubs which we purchased.”

Norman, my brother, and owner of Vintage Tub & Bath answered the question this way:

That is a very broad question and, as such, merits both a technical and practical answer.

Technically, lead is a naturally occurring element. I am sure that the vast majority of material present on the surface of the Earth contains at least some trace of lead. Our tubs aren't excluded from that group. To specifically and technically answer your exact question, we feel that the answer must be yes.

In practical terms, if your question was meant to ask whether or not the tubs you bought present any type of known lead-based health hazard under normal use and conditions, the answer is no (i.e., the tubs are not known to leach hazardous lead into water or emit lead particles into the air, etc.). Furthermore, Vintage Tub & Bath doesn't have any reason to believe any of the materials present in your tub contain a significant amount of lead to present a lead-based health hazard under virtually any condition.

You may have asked us this question because many years ago lead and a host of other harmful materials were significant constituents in paints, surface-smoothing fills, as well as the frits (ground-up glass) that were used to make the porcelain enamel coating used on the inside of cast iron tubs. In fact, in the early 1900s, pure lead was used in major American manufacturing operations to smooth the outside of some clawfoot tubs. The lead would be applied hot, cooled and then ground down by hand by workers with little to no respiratory protection. As a result, lead-based hazards abounded with these older products for workers and consumers alike.

The use of pure lead and significantly lead-based materials in these types of processes and products has long since been abandoned (as in decades ago), and your tubs were manufactured under modern manufacturing conditions no earlier than 2002 to 2003. As a result, we are confident your tubs are quite safe in terms of both lead content and resultant exposure risk. I hope this answers your question.

1 comment:

  1. I'm writing about the "lead in a claw foot tub" issue. You said that Claw foot tubs from the early 1900's lead was used to smooth the outside of the tub. Be honest aren't most claw foot tubs from the early 1900's? If so what brands are the ones with the lead, this is a serious issue, I'm restoring a Colonial built in 1917 and that's exactly the early 1900's, I found a 4'6" claw foot is there a way to find out that it is coated with lead? And aren't all Claw foots from the early 1900's? Didn't they switch to square tubs in the mid 1900's? where the sides of the tubs don't show, and thus are not in need of smoothing because the exposed side of the square tubs are enameled. In other words I can't think of any claw foot tubs made after 1950. I was going to install a claw foot tub but after my plumber told me about the issue with lead and that I should test it, I'm now turned off by the whole deal because I have two little girls that I do not want to expose to lead. If you could clear this up that would be great. Other wise I'll sell the tub and switch to a modern tub.