I conducted a study of lead in tile in 2021. I chose 64 tiles from major retailers in the US and had them professionally tested with a handheld XRF down to 0.00 mg/cm2.
The 64 porcelain and ceramic tiles came from 14 brands and 5 major retailers in the US. Many of the tiles will be available in Canada as well.
The tiles were purchased from Flooring Inc, Stone Tile Depot, Build Direct, The Tile Shop, and Home Depot.
While there are no official limits on the limits of lead in tile in the US, I used a couple of benchmarks.
The first is the level of lead in paint that qualifies it as lead-containing paint. That is 1.0 mg/cm2; 3% of the tiles came in well above this level.
The next benchmark I used is 0.1 mg/cm2 (I actually used 0.09 since one tile came in that close to 0.1). This level of lead in mg/cm2 could still indicate a level of 500 (or more) parts per million (ppm) of lead.
How did I choose this level that I consider to be above trace? Soil contains 50-400 ppm lead naturally (so that can be considered to be trace, source here)
12.5 % of the tiles contained 0.09 mg/cm2 or more lead in the glaze.
Why Should We Care about Lead in Tiles?
While lead in tiles is not considered a risk when the tiles are in place (in almost all circumstances), the dust produced when cutting or demolishing the tiles could easily produce a lead risk.
Just as we are concerned about chipping and flaking paint, in my opinion, we should be just as careful with a product that is installed and demolished in a way that produces a lot of dust.
Contractors are rarely careful with this dust.
It is reasonable to choose to take lead remediation level precautions with all tile dust, however, that is impractical in the real world that contractors and homeowners live in. And also, why are we accepting the tiles that will have lead in the glaze when it’s not necessary?
How Does this Compare to Previous Results?
The amount of lead used in tile glaze has certainly been going down over time.
Heavy metal content in US ceramic floor and tile dropped by 93.6% between 2002 and 2012 (Healthy Building Network).
In 2010, the Ecology Center tested 39 ceramic tiles for sale at Home Depot and Lowes. They found that 74 percent of the tiles contained detectable lead, with levels as high as 1,900 parts per million. (However, “detectable” here could mean anything above 0 ppm). (The Ecology Center)
You can find the whole study here.