Researchers report finding alarming levels of lead and other metal exposures from cookware made from recycled aluminum in Ghana, according to a new study published this month.
The average level of lead found in the equivalent of a single serving of food cooked in the mixed metal cookware tested is 36 times greater than the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidance for daily lead intake.
The study, “Metal exposures from source materials for artisanal aluminum cookware”, published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research, simulated cooking with palm oil and acidic foods. The lead levels reported are more than 220 times California’s Maximum Allowable Dose Level (MADL) of 0.5 µg day for lead. Similar cookware is widely used throughout the developing world and is available for purchase on commercial websites.
Blood lead levels have decreased following the removal of lead from gasoline in most of the world but remain elevated in many low and middle-income countries around the world in comparison to the US and EU. A recent study from Ghana showed that 65% of blood donors had elevated blood lead levels greater than 5 µg/dl.
Jeff Weidenhamer, Professor of Chemistry at Ashland University and first author of the article, said: “That this investigation suggests that regular use of this type of aluminum cookware is causing harmful lead exposures in Ghana and other countries.” He added that “lead poisoning from cookware can impact entire families over a lifetime.”
There are no regulatory standards for lead in cookware but the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the U.S. Centres for Disease Control have determined that there is no safe level of exposure to lead.
The authors investigated if segregating and avoiding certain source materials could reduce leaching of lead and other hazardous metals from this locally made cookware. They concluded that all of the cookware made from seven separate waste streams typically used for this purpose released harmful concentrations of lead, cadmium, chromium and other metals.
Perry Gottesfeld, Executive Director of Occupational Knowledge International, and an author of the article, said: “Greater awareness of this hazard is needed in African and Asian countries where recycled aluminum cookware is commonly used.”
He added that “Public health authorities must inform the public that daily use of these pots can result in lead poisoning and other harmful health effects and that safer alternatives are available.”
Muntaka Chasant, an author of the article who has documented the local metal recycling process, said that ”informal sector metal workers are highly exposed to these same metals during the production process.”
At low levels, lead can damage the brain and result in lower school performance and behavioral problems among children and is associated with lower earnings later in life. Several studies have also linked childhood lead exposures to future criminal and violent behavior.
In addition to the well-established harmful neurological effects of lead exposure for both children and adults, lead and cadmium are significant risk factors for heart attacks and strokes. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of deaths around the world.