SEATTLE — Mega retailer Amazon has pulled a line of potentially dangerous cookware off its website.
Researchers for Public Health – Seattle and King County first issued warnings about aluminum cookware – especially pots called Afghan pressure cookers – more than a year ago.
But Amazon did not take heed until KING 5 purchased three Afghan pressure cookers in May from the websites Amazon and Etsy. All the cookers tested were manufactured with unsafe levels of lead, mirroring the findings of King County’s study results in May 2022.
“Any lead is too much lead,” said Dr. Katie Fellows of the health department’s Hazardous Waste Management program.
Amazon did not respond to messages seeking confirmation that it had removed all Afghan pressure cookers, but the health department’s Dr. Steve Whittaker met with Amazon after KING 5’s story.
“We have reviewed amazon.com here in the United States, we've looked at the Australian site, and we've looked at their UK site, and they no longer sell Afghan pressure cookers,” Whittaker said.
After removing some pressure cookers, Esty still has others available online, said Whittaker. Etsy did not respond to KING 5’s messages.
In addition, a Minnesota company called MenGrills, which was marketing the traditional Afghan pressure cookers for camping and cooking over a live fire, appears to have ceased operations. MenGrills has not responded to messages, but its website has been taken down.
“(It’s) absolutely fantastic. This, for us, is a public health victory,” said Whittaker.
The pots are traditional cookware in the homes of the Afghan population, sometimes handed down through generations as heirlooms. It was in the large population of Afghans that resettled in south King County that the dangers from the pressure cookers first came to light.
Blood tests of newly arrived children showed that Afghans had higher levels of lead than any other immigrant population. Children with lead poisoning suffer neurological damage and learning disabilities. Around 2018, the health department worked with the nonprofit Afghan Health Initiative to determine the source of the lead.
“This is a big issue. We can show hundreds of families where you can look at the kids and say, ‘This person is really affected by lead,” said Afghan Health Initiative CEO Navid Hamidi.
Hamidi praised Amazon’s decision to remove Afghan cookers from its online marketplace.
“This is huge news for the community. It’s going to make our community, our kids more safer,” he said.
Hamidi cautioned that it is not the end of the problem. The pressure cookers are so embedded in culture that many Afghan families are not willing to give them up.
“There’s still pushback from the community for not accepting the fact that these pressure cookers are harmful because the harm on their kids is not immediate. You don’t see it,” he said.
King County researchers believe that Afghanistan’s largest maker of pressure cookers, Rasko Baba LTD, uses scrap metal to make its aluminum cookware. They suspect the scrap includes metals that contain lead.
King County recommends that consumers are cautious about purchasing imported aluminum cookware saying that its tests have shown high lead levels in other aluminum cooking products, in addition to Afghan cookers. The research team says the safest bet is to buy stainless steel cookware. The county worked out a program with the Afghan Health Initiative which allows immigrants from Afghanistan to swap out their pressure cookers with stainless steel models.
For families that cannot afford to replace their aluminum cookware with stainless steel products, researchers have some recommendations on how to keep lead from leaching into food. For example, do not wash aluminum pots with harsh detergents, and do not cook acidic foods in them. King County lists other simple tips here.
Public Health – Seattle and King County periodically offers product testing events, where community organizations host experts who test household products for lead content.
The Immigrant Women’s Community Center in Redmond is sponsoring a testing event in Redmond on July 28. A separate testing event is planned for Aug. 16 at the Federal Way Library. The health department says it only has limited testing capacity, so the events are not open to the general public. The host community organizations determine who is invited.
The Afghan cookers that KING 5 purchased tested as high as 36,000 parts per million lead which, scientists say, is an unsafe level that would cause the poison to seep into food that is cooked or stored in the container.
“You certainly caught their attention. And I believe that your story has really prompted national if not international action on this,” said Whittaker.