I gathered a few pottery items in Hong Kong and tested them for any traces of lead, a chemical still used in some factories.


I remember the first time coming back from a family trip in China in 2013, having bought some beautiful mugs and plates. My mom whipped out her lead testing kit and swiped each piece before we were allowed to use it and lo and behold a few of them tested positive for lead. It is easy in Hong Kong to be lulled into a false sense of security because being a major international port city, many imports/exports are handled incredibly well in this Special Administrative Region but I had a sneaking suspicion that some shoddy goods had passed the customs border.

Why test for lead?

Not to be overly dramatic but here’s a snippet from WHO
“Lead exposure can have serious consequences for the health of children. At high levels of exposure, lead attacks the brain and central nervous system to cause coma, convulsions and even death”
Lead is more dangerous in children than adults but can also lead to some insidious health complications to anyone who is exposed. It was often used in ceramics because it gives off beautiful vibrant colors and that smooth glazed look that people admire for a cheap price. However, when mixed with acidic elements (such as coffee), the lead on the ceramic mug more easily leaches into the beverage.
(Very unlikely but if you suspect you’ve been exposed to any poison please contact Hong Kong Poison Control Network)


Finding and using a lead testing kit is very simple; I searched Amazon, found one for a few bucks, and within a week it arrived to my door. It came in a simple plastic container with orange-colored swabs and the instructions are to;
1) Wet swab with water and shake off excess liquid
2) Wait for the swap tip to achieve mustard yellow color (which is the name of the actual color fun fact)
3) Rub the surface of thing you’re testing for 30 seconds
4) Observe any color change
If the swab turns red/violet/pink then the swab indicates the presence of lead.
I collected my testing items from various locations and used one control item which was a glass container (#0) with the assumption that glass would contain no traces of lead. I then used two ceramic mugs I gathered from a Central pottery store on Wyndham Street (#1 and #2). The third mug was a gift from Amazon, I also assumed this one would contain no traces of lead but I was eager to test it anyways because of how scandalous if it did turn out to have lead. The fourth mug I had bought to use in the office in Stanley Market, the blue plate (#5) was bought from Ikea and I have been using quite often in the home so fingers crossed it would test negative. Lastly, the inordinately beautiful plate (#6) was a gift from some very good friends of mine from an area called Sham Shui Po.
Let the testing begin!


I created a map below of the locations of each piece I tested, the red being the location of the one that tested positive (#4). I was pleased that the rest tested negative although both the Amazon one and the Ikea one I would expect (and desperately hope) to test negative. I am planning on adding more locations in time and please comment with any suggestions of markets/stores to check out!

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