VPR Blog
5:11 pm
Mon September 30, 2013

VPR Responds To Concerns About Artist Mugs

Update 9/30/13

In response to a listener concern about the presence of lead in the ink of an artist mug from October 2011, VPR brought all 34 mugs produced between Fall 2002 and Fall 2013 to a Williston lab for further analysis.   

Using an X-Ray Fluorescence Analyzer, 10 additional mugs (pictured above) produced between 2002 and 2005 were identified as using inks with traces of lead. However, our vendors continue to assure us that they produced these mugs in accordance with the relevant FDA and Consumer Protection Safety Commission regulations.

The newly-identified mugs that were produced with inks containing traces of lead include:

• Fall 2002 – with a design by Stephen Huneck 
• Winter 2003 - with a design by Dug Nap 
• Summer 2003 - with a design by Stephanie Stouffer 
• Fall 2003 - with a design by Bonnie Christiansen 
• Winter 2004 - with a design by Darryl Storrs 
• Summer 2004 - with a design by Shelburne Museum 
• Fall 2004 - with a design by Cris Camarra 
• Winter 2005 - with a design by Matthew Peake 
• Summer 2005 - with a design by Harry Bliss 
• Fall 2005 - with a design by Chris Varicchione 
• Fall 2011 - with a design by Vikki Day (the mug from the initial inquiry)

Again, despite the presence of lead in the ink, we believe these mugs were made in accordance with all applicable federal standards pertaining to the presence of lead in ceramics and paints or glazes in force at the time of production. However, in order to better understand the standards and regulations involved, we conducted additional research over the weekend. This is what we have learned:

We believe that the test that our listener had done on the mug on Thursday at the Vermont Department of Health, as well as the tests VPR had conducted on 34 of its mugs, were based on limits established by the Environmental Protection Agency. From what we can tell in our research, the EPA standards focus on air, water, soil and construction/residential issues and don’t apply to the ink used on ceramic mugs. 

So, today, we sent all 11 newly-identified mugs to a product safety lab in New Hampshire for further testing. We chose the lab based on the list of accredited labs provided by the Consumer Protection Safety Commission.

Our goal is complete transparency and promise to keep you informed about what we learn. The additional testing is estimated to take about 10-15 business days. 

Here is more information about the pertinent regulations and guidelines:

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) regulates lead in consumer goods, especially children's products.  The ink used on VPR’s mugs is held to standards outlined in The Code of Federal Regulations Title 16, Part 1303.  This regulation says that paint or any similar surface coating should contain no more than 0.009% lead (90ppm). 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates extractable lead limits for all food contact ceramic ware. The VPR mugs must comply with FDA standards of no more than .5 micrograms of lead per mL.

The Environmental Protection Agency established hazard standards for residential lead-based paint, and residential dust, and soil lead. Lead-based paint is defined by statute as paint with lead levels equal to or exceeding 1.0 milligrams per square centimeter (mg/cm2) or 0.5% by weight.

Update 9/28/13
Here are the answers to some questions about our Artist Mug collection: 

Who designed the art for this mug? 
The art was designed by Vikki Day. We want to stress that her artwork had nothing to do with the inks used in the printing of the mugs.

How many people received this mug?
We sent the mugs about 1,000 VPR members who made a contribution during our October 2011 membership drive. Others may have received the mug since that time, as VPR staff will sometimes send a mug that is requested or provide one to a member as a special gift.

Where are your mugs printed? 
Our mugs are printed by a company called World Wide Lines, Inc., based in Tennessee. They continue to assure us that the inks used comply with the consumer protection safety commission guidelines for surface-coating materials.

Why are your mugs made in China?
Cost is the determining factor: U.S.-made mugs cost about twice as much as ones made in China, and as a non-profit we have an obligation to be financially responsible with our members’ contributions. Our vendors regularly test the ceramics to ensure they comply with FDA guidelines. In addition, we ask our vendors to assure us that the products are manufactured under fair labor/fair wage standards. We are working steadily to reduce our dependence on pledge gifts in general, and we do work with local manufacturers and product producers whenever possible. We promise to keep an eye on the price of U.S.-made mugs - we'll certainly consider switching when it becomes financially feasible.

What is VPR doing to ensure the safety of its artist mugs?
The health and safety of our members are our first priority and we are working to understand the issue fully. We have submitted additional mugs for testing and expect a formal report on Monday. While the test result that was shared with us revealed lead levels in the ink on the exterior of the mug that exceeds certain EPA standards, our vendor assures us that they meet the standards set by the FDA that apply to ceramics. 

How are you communicating with the community about this issue?
We sent an email Friday evening to members who had received the mug in question, and we have mailed letters to those members for whom we do not have email addresses. We issued a press release Saturday morning as well. We will continue to publish updates to this post and will communicate directly with members who may have been affected as we receive more information. 

Original Post: 9/27/13
This week, VPR was contacted by a listener who obtained tests on an assortment of coffee mugs, which included a VPR Artist Mug from 2011. The test result revealed that the ink on the outside of the mug contained a level of lead which exceeds certain EPA standards.

We took this report very seriously and immediately contacted our vendor, who assured us that VPR Artist Mugs are produced in compliance with applicable Food And Drug Administration standards. Those standards describe that while lead ink may be used, it must not be imprinted near the lip and rim of the mug. Also, the mugs are kiln-fired at 1500 degrees for 5 1/2 hours, which fuses the imprint into the glaze of the mug permanently. As of January 2012, the company, World Wide Lines, Inc., uses only organic-based inks.

While the Fall 2011 mug was produced in accordance with these guidelines, we wanted to let our listeners about this finding. We are continuing to investigate this issue and will update you as soon as we have more information.

Please feel free to contact us if you have any additional questions or concerns.