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A bill seeks reduction of lead in cookware

Parents shouldn’t have to worry that the pots and pans they cook in could be poisoning their kids, say scientists and legislators, and a bill proposed in the state Legislature would make sure that is true.

HB 1551 limits the production, circulation, and sale of pots and pans with more than five parts per million (ppm) of lead in any of its parts.

“The family meal should be a place to gather and spend time together. It shouldn’t be the source of cognitive and physical harm,” said Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle. “I have long fought to protect our children from lead poisoning, and this is the next step in that effort.”

Lead is commonly present in cookware, and even low-level exposure to it can affect brain development, and result in permanent learning and behavioral challenges.

Pollet proposed the bill after The King County Hazardous Waste Program documented the presence of lead in cookware.

“Even small exposures can cause serious health issues,” said Katie Fellows, a research scientist on behalf of the Hazardous Waste Management Program. “These effects can be permanent, which is why primary prevention efforts like HB1551 are key.”

The Hazardous Waste Management Program examined more than 90 items obtained locally, or online and found some cookware contained much higher than FDA-recommended lead concentrations.

“This is an equity issue,” Fellows said. “Low-income Individuals, immigrants or refugees, and people of color are exposed more frequently to lead.

In 2022, researchers at King County’s Hazardous Waste Management found that numerous aluminum cook pots had lead levels surpassing 100 parts per million (ppm), with the highest found at 66,374 ppm. They also found stainless steel cook pots had significantly less lead.

They found one pot handle on an aluminum pot which had 357 ppm of lead.

Washington has adopted several programs and policies to reduce lead in the environment, including in children’s products. Since the 1970s, the federal government has created over 75 regulations to reduce childhood exposure to lead.

However, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, around 500,000 children have high levels of lead in their blood in the United States, and a high proportion of those were minority children.

According to PubMed Central, some ceramics from Europe, Mexico, and China have significant lead-contamination. Glazes that contain lead are commonly used in ceramics and glassware because of their ease of use and brightly-colored finishes.

Fellows recommends that consumers opt for stainless steel cooking appliances when possible.

The bill includes a penalty with fines ranging up to $5,000 for the first offense and $10,000 for repeated violations.

It authorizes the Department of Ecology to consult with the Department of Health to lower the five-ppm requirement in 2035 if deemed possible for manufacturers to accomplish.

The bill passed unanimously out of the House and awaits a decision in the Senate and would take effect in January 2026.

“At very low levels, we have very great harm to our children,” Pollet said. “Cookware, if you think about it, is inherently going to be dangerous because you are boiling water. You may have acidic foods. You are going to leech it out.”

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