News / Africa

Study: African Aluminum Pots Contain Lead

Locally made aluminum pots in Cameroon, and probably in much of Africa, are likely to be contaminated with lead (
(Courtesy: Occupational Knowledge International).
Locally made aluminum pots in Cameroon, and probably in much of Africa, are likely to be contaminated with lead ( (Courtesy: Occupational Knowledge International).


  • Listen to De Capua report on Africa aluminum cookware

Joe DeCapua

Locally made aluminum pots and pans are very common in Africa and Asia.

But a new study in Cameroon has raised questions about their safety, saying high levels of lead are leaching from the cookware into food.

Listen to De Capua report on Africa aluminum cookware
Listen to De Capua report on Africa aluminum cookwarei
|| 0:00:00

The World Health Organization has not posted any regulations regarding lead in cookware, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has said there’s really no safe level of lead exposure.

Ashland University and Occupational Knowledge International conducted the research in Cameroon that appears in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

“I must say we literally stumbled upon this," said Perry Gottesfeld, Occupational Knowledge International’s executive director. "We were working in Cameroon for the past four years. We had been doing awareness sessions and outreach around lead in paint trying to get companies there to reformulate to take out the lead additives and to get the government to put in regulation. And in the process the question had come up – well, what about the pots?”

The lead awareness campaign was done in partnership with the Education Center for Development, a Cameroonian NGO.

“Our partners went out and visited where these are made and reported back that, in fact, this is made primarily from scrape metal. And so that of course peaked our interest. And that’s when we decided to do an investigation to find out what the levels of lead and other heavy metals were in those pots,” said Gottesfeld.

The researchers wanted to know how much lead was being served with daily meals. Gottesfeld said lead exposure has effects that are both acute and chronic.

“We found that the average or median level was about 97 micrograms of lead per serving – serving size being about 250 milliliters. So this is a very high concentration of lead and a type of exposure that people would likely get on a regular, daily basis if using this kind of cookware.”

That’s hundreds of times higher than the level the U.S. State of California has determined to be the Maximum Allowable Dose per day.

Gottesfeld said, “In terms of low-level lead health effects that occur on an ongoing basis like this one, we could expect neurological damage that’s manifested in reduced performance in school – reduced IQ – and other learning disabilities. We also know though that it affects the health of an individual throughout their life and does result in higher rates of heart disease and stroke. And it doers result in a very high death rate among populations who are exposed long term.”

He said that there are reports that similar lead levels are found in locally made aluminum cookware in Thailand and Bangladesh. He said taking steps to eliminate the lead-laced pots pose challenges.

“I think the first question we need to ask is how extensive is this problem. But ultimately I think it’s going to require some regulation on the part of government. But also it’s going to require working with these local manufacturers to educate them about the kinds of scrape metal that they should and shouldn’t use in making this kind of cookware.”

He said the scrap metal could be tested for lead before it’s melted down to make cookware. This could be done with a portable device called X-ray fluorescence, or XRF, which gives results in a matter of seconds. Researchers are considering a pilot project to determine whether on-site testing is feasible in Cameroon.

Another option is to have the cookware manufactured with a process called anodization. It places a coating on aluminum that reduces the amount of lead and other metals leaching into food.

“We know that lead poisoning is a huge problem throughout Africa, but almost all of it goes undetected because there are no facilities to test for blood lead levels in most countries in Africa. So we know that there are literally millions of children and adults, who are overexposed to lead. And they just continue to suffer with these symptoms and they’re often misdiagnosed with some other unrelated disease,” said Gottesfeld.

Occupational Knowledge International recommends that African laboratories have the capacity to conduct tests for blood lead levels. Field tests are also available.

Gottesfeld added that awareness campaigns are needed for those who run the small companies that manufacture the pots.

“We would like to follow-up by doing more outreach and education with these manufacturers so that they better understand the kinds of scrape that contain higher levels of lead and other contaminants. Clearly, if they were using pure aluminum this would not be a problem.”

He said recent surveys in Africa and Asia “suggest blood lead levels have remained stubbornly high despite the ban on lead gasoline in most of the world.” 

You May Like

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs