General Question

LuckyGuy's avatar

Did you know that old, red-orange Fiestaware cups and saucers are radioactive?

Asked by LuckyGuy (34607points) April 1st, 2014

I had heard about it but thought that was a myth. Well, it’s true! I just checked an old cup and saucer “pre-1965” and measured 1.2mR/hr – about 200x the local background! I used a 3 mm Beta particle blocker to further characterize the emission (alpha, beta, or gamma) and that stopped at least 90% of the radiation.
I don’t know the health effects of this amount of beta radiation – yet.
Do you have any old red-orange Fiestaware around the house? Did your family use it while you were growing up?

(If you have some, Don’t throw it out! We can try some experiments!)

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

16 Answers

kritiper's avatar

Let’s get out the old clocks and watches with radioactive glowing dials, too!
My grandmother had some Fiesta ware. A mix of colors, maybe from some old soap box gimmick. Don’t know where it is now. Will send out a Email to family. Thanks!

elbanditoroso's avatar

And the proof of this is that roughly 60% of all the people that were alive in 1965 are now dead!!! What sort of correlation is that! Proof positive, if you ask me.

You get more radiation walking outside in Denver (altitude 5000 feet) than you do from these.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

We can put food, on the red-orange Fiestaware, without refrigeration on the kitchen counter for a week or two then eat it.
Maybe we should start with eggs in their shells or a steak. ~ ~

LuckyGuy's avatar

I checked an old glow-in-the-dark Baby Ben alarm clock and it was indistinguishable from background. I could get a reading from a smoke detector if I removed the shied. (It was about 4x ambient at the source – all alpha particles, blocked by paper.

Of course radioactivity drops off as a square law. I could not detect the Fiestaware 4 feet away but as I got closer I could easily. And when I got right up to it I measured 1.2 mr/hr.

@elbanditoroso I’m not worried. I am a data guy and like to get the facts first. According to the US EPA “The amount of cosmic radiation you are exposed to while flying depends on your altitude and latitude (distance from the Earth’s equator) and solar activity. For a typical cross-country flight in a commercial airplane, you are likely to receive 2 to 5 millirem (mrem) of radiation, less than half the radiation dose you receive from a chest x-ray. People in the United States receive an average of 360 mrem of radiation per year from natural and man-made radiation sources, which includes cosmic radiation exposure during commercial flights.”
So if we assume a cross county flight takes 5 hours, the rate is 0.4 to 1 mrem/hour or a little less than the 1.2 mrem/hr put out by being near the Fiestaware. Interesting.
So far I have not seen figures for the background radiation rate for Denver. I am measuring about 0.010 mrem/hr here (about 300 ft above seal level). That number is right at the limit of the machine so it might be off. (I am too lazy to run 1 hour tests.)

JLeslie's avatar

“We can try experiments.” LOL!

Is that more radiation than say a granite countertop?

LuckyGuy's avatar

@JLeslie It is at least 100x the level of the granite I can find around here. The intensity really surprised me.

As for the experiments, I’m thinking of growing some plants on it. There might be some interesting genetic mutations.

JLeslie's avatar

Let us know the results. Are you going to wear led armor when you are near it?

CWOTUS's avatar

On the other hand, if it’s beta radiation that you’re receiving, and it’s from a plate – which means that food may be on it and there will be some mechanical scraping, cutting, etc. – and ingesting of the food, of course – then it’s not good. Not good at all.

Beta radiation is more damaging internally than some other forms because it is by definition a high-energy particle-type radiation (as opposed to gamma rays and X-rays, which are wave-form radiation which pass through the body and are gone). Alpha radiation, though the lowest-energy particulate form, is also the most potentially damaging because of its much higher mass than beta, but as you noted in your introduction, it’s also the most easily blocked.

To repeat: alpha and beta radiation are the most damaging internal forms of radiation, and since the beta that you’ve discovered is coming from a plate, then it is very likely to end up in the diner’s body. Once inside, these forms of radiation can be quite harmful.

Radiation doesn’t unnecessarily scare or bother me, because I know the risks and understand the dangers. And that’s why I wouldn’t use those plates as anything more than decorative, not to be used for food to be ingested. But I would be fine with using them decoratively.

dappled_leaves's avatar

US EPA also has guidelines for using radioactive ceramics:

Do not use orange-red Fiestaware® ,similar ceramics, or vaseline glass to hold food or drink.

Although they imply that having such antiques in your house is not a matter of great concern, they do specifically say not to eat from them.

pleiades's avatar

I’m not even going to try and read anymore questions today I can’t tell what is April Fools anymore

Tropical_Willie's avatar

@pleiades THIS thread is legit, the older Fiestaware and other ceramics from mid-twentieth century are = = > HOT !

downtide's avatar

I just looked it up and it’s not just Fiestaware, it’s ANY orange or red glazed ceramics produced in the USA prior to about 1972.

Also @LuckyGuy you have a Geiger counter to play with at home? I’m jealous.

jaytkay's avatar

Yep, I knew that.

My grandmother had Fiestaware as her every day dishes from the 1930s until she died in the 1980s (heart disease, not radiation poisoning).

So when it became known as dangerous, she discarded the bad pieces.

SquirrelEStuff's avatar

Can you somehow perform the experiment with tobacco smoke without smoking?

I once worked at a nuclear plant in NJ. During training, the instructor asked how many people were afraid of radiation. He then asked how many people smoked.
He said that the average amount of radiation that a smoker is exposed to annually, far exceeds the amount of a radiation that a worker is allowed to be exposed to annually.

I’m curious to know the measured radiation compared to other item you are measuring.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

I used to have an old lantern mantel refill that I used to do quick checks of GM tubes with in the lab. The new ones are not radio active anymore. Another surprising source is cheap smoke detectors.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@downtide Yes, I have access to a high end Geiger counter – with a dedicated laptop and datalogging and graphing software. It is beautiful.
(From my other posts you might have noticed I have access to a lot of test equipment. I can measure anything.)

@jaytkay She threw it out?! You’re killing me!

Answer this question




to answer.

This question is in the General Section. Responses must be helpful and on-topic.

Your answer will be saved while you login or join.

Have a question? Ask Fluther!

What do you know more about?
Knowledge Networking @ Fluther