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New study reveals lead in some imported aluminum cookpots could contribute to lead poisoning

SUMMARY: A new study shows some aluminum cookpots and pressure cookers released enough lead under simulated cooking and storage conditions to present a significant risk for lead poisoning. Researchers identified several solutions to prevent this exposure to lead, including switching to alternatives like stainless steel, purchasing certified aluminum cookware, and adopting safer cooking and storage practices.

May 11, 2022

The Hazardous Waste Management Program in King County (Haz Waste Program) says its new study shows certain aluminum cookpots and pressure cookers could pose a serious health risk and expose people to lead, especially children. The lead cookpot study results are especially important for children and people who are pregnant or breastfeeding because of lead’s effect on brain development. Childhood lead poisoning is one of the most preventable, non-infectious diseases, yet it remains one of the most common childhood health problems worldwide.

“We will continue to work with agencies at the local, state, and federal levels to further understand and prevent impacts of lead exposure to help protect children’s health and improve health equity. This work is part of our commitment to anti-racism and human health,” said Steve Whittaker, one of the study’s authors.

The Washington State Department of Health reported that Afghan refugee children had the highest prevalence of elevated blood lead levels (BLLs) compared to other recently arrived refugee communities. Haz Waste Program conducts in-home environmental assessments that led researchers to find a source of lead exposure that had not been described previously: aluminum cookpots and pressure cookers often brought from Afghanistan by resettled families or purchased in the United States. 

The lead cookpot study, done in collaboration with the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at the University of Washington, revealed that many of the tested aluminum cookpots released enough lead under simulated cooking and storage conditions to present a significant risk for lead poisoning, especially important for children and people who are pregnant or breastfeeding because of lead’s effect on childhood brain development. These findings are now public and published in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology

While lead poisoning is a serious concern, the researchers identified several solutions. In further tests, the Haz Waste Program found that stainless-steel cookpots and pressure cookers contain much lower levels of lead and are a safer alternative to aluminum cookware. Aluminum cookware that is certified by NSF International also contains low levels of lead and other toxic chemicals. 

  • If people are unable to replace aluminum cookware, these steps can help reduce lead exposure:
  • Avoid cooking acidic foods such as vinegar and tomatoes in aluminum cookpots.
  • Wash cookpots by hand using warm water, a delicate scrubber, and mild soap as soon as possible after using. Avoid using the dishwasher for aluminum cookware, as some dishwasher detergents can be harsh, especially when used with hot water.
  • Store leftover meals in BPA-free plastic or glass containers.
  • Recycle unwanted aluminum cookpots. Most waste management agencies will accept aluminum pots for recycling. 

In addition to these options, concerned parents and guardians can get their child tested for lead exposure by getting a simple blood test. 

“Testing for lead in aluminum cookpots requires a chemical analysis that’s very difficult to do at home, but testing your child for lead exposure is easy with a simple blood test,” said Amy Shumann, manager of the Lead and Toxics program at Public Health – Seattle & King County. “If you are concerned about exposure, please call your health care provider or clinic.” 

Because of the potential impact on a broad population who could purchase imported aluminum cookware, the Haz Waste Program shared study data with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, and federal-level investigators who are looking into the sources and distribution of the cookpots tested.

The Haz Waste Program continues to support programs in King County and Washington state that address lead poisoning. In addition to aluminum cookpots and pressure cookers, lead is present in other common sources like lead-based paint and dust, glazed ceramic dishes, spices, makeup, and jewelry. 

“We very much appreciate the support of the local Afghan community, which allowed us to do this research,” Whittaker said. “Our need for this data is not unique. Lead poisoning is a problem national in scale and the Haz Waste Program is sharing this research so these findings can support the health of children of all backgrounds across the country.”

 

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ABOUT THE HAZARDOUS WASTE MANAGEMENT PROGRAM

At the Hazardous Waste Management Program, we come to work every day because we want to protect and improve public health and environmental quality in King County. With our partners, King County Solid Waste Division, King County Water and Land Resources Division, Public Health – Seattle & King County, Seattle Public Utilities, and Sound Cities Association, we’re working towards a shared vision: a Puget Sound region that’s the cleanest in the country, free from hazardous chemical exposure.