Aluminium scrap based utensils contain toxic materials that can cause debilitating diseases

Stillife of pots, strainers, and other kitchen utensils in a large institutional kitchen. li]Click on any of the thumbnails below to see more kitchens./file_thumbview_approve.php?size=1&id=7348760

By Suhasini Bhattacharya

Strengthening regulations governing the import and dumping of aluminium scrap and promoting awareness about safer alternatives to produce cheap and healthy utensils are essential steps for saving the country’s masses from the myriad illnesses that aluminium scrap-based utensils can cause.

The use of aluminium utensils, particularly those made from scrap aluminium, has been a common practice for a long time in India. Much cheaper than stainless steel and copper cookware, these aluminium utensils are popular with the poor and even the middle class.

But numerous studies have shown that consuming food cooked in such utensils can be bad for health. From toxic heavy metals to hazardous chemicals, the presence of contaminants in aluminium scrap utensils poses a significant threat to India’s national health.

As recycling does not damage the metal’s structure, aluminium can be recycled indefinitely and used to produce products for which new aluminium could have been used. But aluminum recycled from scrap is heavily contaminated with toxic materials. Sources for recycled aluminium include waste engine parts, vehicle radiators, lead batteries, computer parts, aircraft, automobiles, bicycles, boats, computers, cookware, gutters, siding, wires, and other products.

Due to these sources, aluminium scrap is toxic and has a host of contaminants originating from the scrap metal itself or even from the chemicals used during the recycling process. It may also be radioactive.

Due to contamination, when aluminium scrap is used to make utensils used for cooking or storing food, it seriously jeopardizes the health. The toxins in the utensils leach into the food being cooked and enter the human body. Such toxins lead to significant deterioration in health. The most prevalent toxins present in aluminium scrap utensils are heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and chromium. These toxic substances can leach into food during cooking or even storage, posing serious health risks to consumers.

People who use utensils made from recycled aluminum are known to face maladies like hypertension, nausea, joint and muscular pain, headaches, difficulties with memory and concentration, mood disorders and even issues with pregnancies such as miscarriages or stillbirths. These are all symptoms of heavy metal poisoning.

Lead, in particular, is known to cause severe neurological damage. So how does that affect us, especially our children? Developmental delays, learning disabilities, and other significant cognitive impairments are caused due to lead exposure.

Potential lead exposures from cooking were estimated to be as high as 260 μg per serving, indicating a serious health hazard. According to Lim et al., 2012, the estimated global toll from lead poisoning is 674,000 premature deaths annually.

The use of deadly chemicals in the recycling process of aluminium scrap has also raised alarm bells among health experts: phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA), and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), just to name a few. These chemicals are known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors–they interfere with the body’s hormonal balance and lead to a wide range of health problems, including reproductive issues, hormone-related cancers, and immune system disorders.

On the other hand, new aluminium or primary aluminium is produced directly from bauxite ore after following the process of refining it into alumina and then into pure aluminium. This is further cast into ingots or other such forms and shipped to customers for use in production of many different commodities.

Addressing the health impact of aluminium scrap-based utensils requires urgent action from policymakers, regulatory authorities, and consumers alike. Especially considering that most aluminium scrap comes from imports that are dumped into India and China.

In 2018, China put into place the National Sword Policy which banned the import of scrap aluminium and other specific types of solid waste, as well as set strict contamination limits on recyclable materials. China has stopped accepting shipments of aluminium scrap into their country.

Policy makers in India should look closely at the National Sword Policy of China and how it protects the health of the common people. This policy can be adapted in India. Scrap aluminium has usages other than utensils and therefore we may need to be flexible about how we look at the National Sword Policy of China.

We should look at limiting the quantity of aluminium scrap being allowed to be imported in India so as to discourage its use for making utensils. We can also impose Anti-Dumping Duties as aluminium scrap imports are widely reported to be sold into India at prices lower than those in their home country.

Strengthening regulations governing the import and dumping of aluminium scrap and promoting awareness about safer alternatives to produce cheap and healthy utensils are essential steps for saving the country’s masses from the myriad illnesses that aluminium scrap-based utensils can cause.