What is Depression Era Glass?
According to the National Depression Glass Association (NDGA), Depression glass is glassware manufactured in America from the early 1920s through the end of World War II in 1945. This period of manufacturing is what defines a piece of glassware as Depression glass.
It often came in colors like green, pink, blue, and amber.
Is Depression Glass Toxic?
Depression glass can be leaded or unleaded glass, it often had arsenic added as a bubble reducing agent, and further additives like Uranium were added, dependent on the color.
- Green Depression Glass: Chromium and/or Uranium
- Yellow Depression Glass: Uranium
- Blue Depression Glass: Cobalt
- Brown Depression Glass: Nickel
- Amber Depression Glass: Carbon, Sulphur, Iron
- Purple Depression Glass: Manganese
- Red Depression Glass: Gold, Selenium
- Alexandrite Depression Glass: Neodymium
Lead, Arsenic, and Uranium can all find their way into the food or drink and become a serious risk to the user. This article will look at each of those risks in more detail.
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Does Depression Glass Contain Radioactive Elements like Uranium?
Some colors of Depression Glass contain Uranium; Uranium gives glass a yellow or green color.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends against eating or drinking from Uranium glassware.
Because the glass only contains a small amount of Uranium, many websites argue that this glass is safe to eat off of. However, the EPA is conservative in their recommendations. If they say it’s not safe to eat off of, I definitely wouldn’t.
You can test your glassware for Uranium by exposing it to UV light (i.e. a black-light). If it is positive for Uranium it will fluoresce (glow) from the UV exposure.
Does Depression Glass Contain Arsenic?
Regardless of if the glass was leaded or unleaded, Arsenic was added to most glass formulas at this time. It was used to reduce the bubbles that formed as the ingredients were being melted, says the National Depression Glass Association.
Not all Depression glass should be presumed positive for Arsenic, as Tamara’s testing (linked to below) shows a set of clear glassware that didn’t test positive for Arsenic.
You would need to test your glassware with XRF testing to know if it contains Arsenic.
Does Depression Glass Contain Lead?
Lime-soda glass was used to make most of the dinnerware items in Depression glass. The leaded glass was more often used to make blown items like stemware and vases, says the National Depression Glass Association.
Lead does leach out of glassware. The quantity released depends on the amount of Lead in the glassware, the type of food or beverage used, and the length of time they are in contact with each other (source).
If you want to avoid Lead completely then I would not use Depression glass that is positive for Lead for eating and drinking out of. Official recommendations by the Government of Canada and the FDA recommend that pregnant women and children should not use leaded glassware to eat or drink from.
You would need to test your specific glassware set to know if it’s positive for Lead.
Is Clear Depression Glass Safe to Use?
Tamara Rubin tested a set of clear Depression glass, which only showed trace Antimony and Cadmium which would be considered safe by all standards to eat off of.
Is Pink Depression Glass Safe to Use?
Pink Depression glass is not one that should be singled out as particularly toxic based on the pink colorant.
Like all Depression glass, it could contain Arsenic, Lead, or other metals. You would need to test it to be sure.
How do You Know if Your Depression Glass Contains Toxic Metals?
You should have your depression glass tested if you plan to use it to eat off or drink from.
To detect Uranium you could put the yellow or green glassware under a UV black-light to see if that causes it to glow.
To detect Lead, Arsenic and other metals you would need to complete XRF testing of the items. Please see this post for more details on how to test items with an XRF analyzer.
Alternatives that are Lead Safe!
The following items have been tested by Tamara Rubin and are lead safe. Click on the image for the link.
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist Practitioner with 7 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.