Is Uranium Glass Safe to Use?

Radiation and radioactive materials are generally associated with big disasters, radiation poisoning, and dangerous forms of cancer. However, since the 1830s, big companies have been using these very materials in the production of dishes, leading many to wonder about the effects that this exposure could have on its users.

Uranium glass, or any dishware made with uranium in it or coated on it, is safe to use IF it is undamaged. Although not ideal to use if there are other options, there is no imminent danger that comes from using uranium glass, as the radiation level in the glass is generally too low to cause any actual harm.

The effects of using uranium glass have been examined by experts and tests have been run gauging different kinds of exposure and possible harmful effects that come from using the glass. These studies and a brief history of the materials used in the glass will be used to confirm that uranium glass is indeed safe to use, although hopefully not your first option when setting the table for family dinner.

Vintage Fenton Vaseline Topaz Opalescent Uranium Glass Hobnail Pitcher & Tumblers
Vintage Fenton Vaseline Topaz Opalescent Uranium Glass Hobnail Pitcher & Tumblers Sold for $519.99 from eajacks55 on Ebay

Is it Safe to Use Uranium Glass?

You may be more familiar with uranium dishes than you think, considering they were a cheap but classy kind of dish during the Depression era and the years shortly after as well. It seems as though any older person or their grandma has at least one of these oddly shaped and yellow-ish-colored bowls in their house in which they hold wrapped hard candy for any visitors. The history behind these unique dishes may be more interesting than one would think.

Uranium was discovered in 1789, and the first known dish to be made with uranium was presented in 1831 at an exhibition in Prague. The color that this radioactive material gave the dishes was fascinating, especially because it made the dishes glow bright green under a black light. The use of uranium in dishes was a common practice in the United States until about 1970, but there are a few countries that still use this material in the production of their glass and dishes.

Uranium Glass Decanter with Shot Glasses And Serving Tray
Uranium Glass Decanter with Shot Glasses And Serving Tray $117.20 from Junxhop on Etsy

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has helped create regulations regarding products with abnormally high amounts of radiation in them, but according to them, uranium glass and ceramics containing uranium are completely safe to own and use in your day-to-day activities.

Is Uranium Glass Illegal?

In the 1940s, the US government took away all uranium supplies to use in building nuclear and atomic weapons, so the element was not widely available during the years of World War II and the Cold War. Although chemically processed uranium was more readily available after the 1990s, the dangers of radiation had become more widely known and the use of any radionuclides in dishware almost completely stopped.

The harmful effects of using elements such as uranium, radium, and potassium were not widely recognized until the US started regulating the use of the products, thus ending the era of US-produced radioactive dishes. However, using radioactive materials in any kind of dishware is still legal within the US as long as the material does not make up more than 10% of the item weight.

Is Uranium Radioactive?

At this point, you may be concerned about your exposure to any potential radioactive antiques or materials. It may be surprising to learn that literally everything around you is radioactive. Radiation is simply a form of energy that can travel as fast as the speed of light, and the danger from radiation comes only when the energy is at its strongest. Gamma rays, the strongest of all radioactive rays, can change the chemical makeup of something they pierce, leading to poisoning or even death in the most severe cases.

While this may seem bleak, human beings are exposed to many different forms of radiation every day. You can find radioactive materials in food, glass, fertilizer, ceramics, watches, clocks, and smoke detectors. Since all radioactive materials are found naturally within nature, it is impossible to live life without some exposure.

Vintage Mosser Vaseline Uranium Pressed Glass Miniature Water Pitcher and Six Matching Glasses with Inverted Peacock Pattern
Vintage Mosser Vaseline Uranium Pressed Glass Miniature Water Pitcher and Six Matching Glasses with Inverted Peacock Pattern $125 from GlowNShowAntiques on Etsy

While the term radiation might sound somewhat threatening, the truth is that there simply isn’t enough radiation emitted from uranium glass for it to be dangerous to human beings. This means you shouldn’t have to worry too much about using uranium glass. You can eat and drink from uranium glass just fine.

Can Uranium Glass Hurt You?

While some ceramics were made with a uranium coating, uranium and vaseline glass contained uranium on the inside of the dish. The average dish held around 2% uranium, but some had up to 25% uranium. There are three main ways that one could be hurt/exposed to serious radiation when using these dishes.

First of all, one’s body could be exposed to gamma rays from the different radionuclides that are contained within the glass. This would be a more powerful form of radiation, especially since the dish’s radiation is generally contained within the glass itself and can’t be transmitted outside of the glass unless it was broken.

Vintage Uranium Glass Hocking Circle Pattern Cup and Saucer
Vintage Uranium Glass Hocking Circle Pattern Cup and Saucer From OliveBranchBooks on Etsy

Secondly, the hands could be exposed to beta rays also from the radionuclides in the glass. The level of exposure as well as the severity of the exposure depends on the weight of the uranium in the dish and the distance one is from the dish. There would be a higher exposure rate if one was holding the dish rather than standing close to it.

Last but certainly not least, radiation exposure from uranium glass could occur from ingested uranium. Although less common in glass than ceramics, uranium can potentially leak into the food from the glass and then be ingested. Studies showed that with each use of the dish, less uranium leaked out and contaminated the food. (Source)

Interestingly enough, the same study showed that those at the highest risk for radiation exposure from uranium glass were those who were transporting lots of the dishes from the manufacturing facility to be shipped to various places around the world. Even then, this level of exposure only makes up 4% of the annual radiation exposure for Americans.

In conclusion, it is perfectly safe to use any of these antique dishes you or your grandmother may own. Although they are less common and somewhat hard to come by now, some people like to collect and display these dishes, and if that is your cup of tea, there is no need to be concerned about your safety in doing so.

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