Despite the ban on lead in gasoline, blood lead levels in African nations have remained stubbornly high. Now, researchers from Ashland University think they might know why. According to their tests, cookware made in Africa from recycled metals is leaching lead into food in quantities nearly 200 times the levels permissible in the United States.
The new study was conducted in partnership with the Cameroonian NGO Research and Education Centre for Development (CREPD) and published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.
The researchers based their findings on 29 samples of aluminum cookware made in Cameroon. Their analysis showed that almost all the samples had considerable lead content. According to the research team, the cookware is sold throughout Africa and is made from recycled scrap metal; including car and computer parts, cans, and other industrial debris.
There are no regulatory standards for lead in cookware but the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control have determined that there is no safe level of exposure to lead.
The investigation simulated cooking by boiling mildly acidic solutions in the cookware for two hours and measuring the lead extracted in solution. The team found that a typical serving contained almost 200 times more lead than California’s maximum allowable dose level of 0.5 micrograms per day. The researchers also found significant levels of aluminum and cadmium leached from the cookware.
“These locally made aluminum pots are the most commonly used in Cameroon and throughout Africa, so the lead levels we found are alarming and a threat to public health,” said Gilbert Kuepouo, Executive Director of CREPD and one of the study’s authors.
“This previously unrecognized lead exposure source has the potential to be of much greater public health significance than lead paint or other well-known sources that are common around the world,” added co-author Perry Gottesfeld.
Lead exposure in children has been linked to brain damage, impaired cognition, lower educational performance, and a range of other health effects. It has also been suggested that the worldwide drop in violent crime was linked to the banning of leaded gasoline.
“Unlike some other sources of lead contamination, lead poisoning from cookware can impact entire families over a life-time. Even low-level lead exposures can result in reduced IQ and neurological deficits,” concluded Ashland University’s Jeffrey Weidenhamer.