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News / Northwest

Washington becomes first state to ban lead-contaminated cookware

By Elise Takahama, The Seattle Times
Published: March 31, 2024, 4:12pm

Washington is the first state to ban the manufacture, distribution and sale of cookware contaminated with lead, following Gov. Jay Inslee’s approval of a bill that passed this legislative session.

The law restricts the sale of pots and pans containing lead exceeding levels of 5 parts per million in the cookware, according to House Bill 1551. The bill also authorizes the Department of Ecology to penalize violations by fining up to $5,000 for an initial offense, and $10,000 for subsequent ones.

The legislation is a “direct response” to the risks of lead poisoning associated with certain aluminum cookware, known to cause health conditions that include learning disabilities and developmental delays in children, as well as fertility issues, nerve disorders and high blood pressure in adults, according to a statement this week from the King County hazardous waste management program that praised the “milestone.”

“There’s no safe level of lead exposure, and this law will help improve the safety of cookware products sold in Washington by reducing unintentional lead exposure,” Dylan Orr, environmental health director of Public Health – Seattle & King County, said in the statement.

Leaders from King County’s hazardous waste management program testified during the session that their research, in collaboration with the University of Washington and published in 2022, revealed alarmingly high levels of lead in aluminum cookware manufactured overseas. The paper found a specific link between imported cookware and lead exposure in Afghan refugee families, largely due to the aluminum pots, pans and pressure cookers many brought with them from Afghanistan, which contained high lead levels.

The study also noted that aluminum cookware associated with lead exposures is often uncoated, nonanodized and made from discarded scrap metal, which could lead to higher concentrations of the toxin. Some cookware tested during the study contained over 50,000 parts per million of lead.

Lead-contaminated cookware has also been found in local stores and online, and the other common sources of exposure to the metal are lead-based paint, contaminated soil and drinking water, according to King County’s lead and toxics program.

The county’s hazardous waste management teams have since started a cookware exchange program to provide stainless steel pots — a safer alternative — to families, and have worked with the Afghan Health Initiative to offer guidance on safely using, washing and storing aluminum cookware for those unable to make the switch, the Friday statement said.

“This law demonstrates the power of community partnerships in addressing critical health issues,” Ariana Anjaz, senior director of the Afghan Health Initiative, said in the statement. “The (hazardous waste management program’s) partnership sets a precedent for safeguarding vulnerable populations and creating lasting positive change.”

In other parts of Washington, many counties are struggling to meet a requirement to test all children on Apple Health for lead, according to a report from the state auditor’s office last December. The report found 74% of Washington kids on Apple Health born from 2014 to 2016 had not undergone a blood test for lead between their first and sixth birthdays.

County-by-county rates varied widely, from 7% of Clallam County kids in the age range tested at least once to 55% of kids in Walla Walla County.

The recent results of the survey underscore “the need for comprehensive measures to combat exposure,” according to King County’s hazardous waste management program.

“You should not need to be a scientist to purchase safe cookware,” Maythia Airhart, director of King County’s hazardous waste management program, said in the statement. “As we celebrate this milestone, HazWaste Management Program reaffirms its commitment to community-centered policymaking, aiming for systems-level impacts that benefit all people in King County and beyond.”

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