Words companies are currently using to describe their contemporary cookware that incorporates last-century high-lead-content brass decorative elements
(these are screenshots from their websites:)
Originally Published April 27, 2018
Updated: December 31, 2020
Decorative Leaded brass accents on new kitchenware.
This one is a hard subject for me; I almost don’t know where to start because there is so much to say…
“A thing of the past”
First and foremost, realize that in many cases, the reason certain things went “out of fashion” is because they were inherently dangerous. Bringing them back in the name of “heritage” or “culture” or “design” or “art” is even more dangerous — because people assume that in The United States in the 21st Century there must be by now an effective system of stringent and comprehensive safety regulations in place to protect consumers against serious hazards, like neurotoxicants in newly-manufactured cookware. [Dream on!]
Poisonous heavy metals do not belong in our kitchens.
For those new to this website (and to review):
- Lead is an extremely potent, cumulative neurotoxin that causes permanent brain damage — impacts of which are detectable even at the lowest levels of exposure; to add it into our cooking environment intentionally (in 2018!) is just plain stupid – and inexcusable.
- We have observed the horrible neurotoxic impacts of lead since humans began mining the stuff more than thousand years ago(!), yet today in the U.S. lead exposure impacts more children – and adults – (and costs our economy more) each day than all other known environmental pollutants COMBINED*, so we really should not be adding it to our cookware.
“But I like the weight and feel of traditional brass”
- Lead has been added to brass (throughout history) to increase the weight to make it “feel” and “seem” more like gold and therefore to impart perceived “value”.
- In my opinion, Leaded brass should not continue to be glorified by the use of words such as “traditional” or “vintage” or “historic”… Leaded brass is potentially deadly (especially if small Leaded brass item were to be swallowed by a child) — and does not belong in our kitchens.
- Most of the brass I have found in vintage – and new – cookware with brass components has – in fact – tested positive for Lead (using an XRF instrument) at levels in the range of 30,000 to 40,000 parts per million lead.
How much Lead is too much Lead?
What does 30,000 ppm mean?
- For context, the level at which items intended for use by children are considered toxic and illegal (if they have Lead present) is 100 ppm Lead or higher in the substrate (base material) of any component of an item.
- Items are also considered unsafe and illegal to be sold as children’s items if the level of the paint or coating exceeds 90 ppm.
- Using the substrate limit (since the Lead is in exposed brass without a coating in most of these examples), 100 parts per million vs. the apprx. 40,000 ppm being found in some of this modern cookware – makes these Lead brass components quite alarming.
Why isn’t this illegal?
- It is legal to have Leaded decorative components in cookware and dishware today because cookware and dishware are not considered to be “items intended for use by children.”
- While it is, unfortunately, currently completely legal to have leaded brass in newly manufactured cookware it is not safe especially if the leaded component is a part that is frequently touched with normal use.
- This is because the brass components of this modern cookware are so high in Lead, they are often even testing positive for lead with reactive agent testing [such as a LeadCheck® swab] — with the swab turning pink when you rub it on the handle or knob of the item in question; levels this high and “available” mean the lead can also rub off onto your hands when you handle the pot. This also is an indicator that the Lead in the components may very well be bioavailable. In fact, in California there have been several successful lawsuits (around Prop 65 violations) due to bioavailable Lead found in high Lead brass knobs and handles (components of furniture and other objects with Lead at similar levels as the Lead found in the brass components of these cookware items.)
- Especially egregious: The leaded components of these pans are the part of the pan that is designed to be touched the most frequently during cooking: the handles, knobs, etc.
- Also annoying: no one is studying this at all. You will not find a study available in 2018 (that I am aware of) that warns of potential dangers of leaded brass components in cookware. There is no benefit for the companies making these products to study the specific potential concern, and it’s not perceived as a big enough potential problem for any public agencies to study the possible impact.
- Just because it is not a studied problem doesn’t mean it is not potentially adding to your total aggregate background lead exposure. It is this combined lead exposure in our homes that is concerning. If we can avoid lead (and especially if we can avoid knowingly bringing lead into our homes) we should!
Bottom Line: There is no acceptable justification for the use of lead in cookware, period!
So who are my “top offenders” for this? I have tested two companies’ products that I have concerns about – one is Italian (sold in the U.S. exclusively by a small boutique business based in Brentwood/Los Angeles) and one is made right here in my own city (Portland, Oregon). I have spoken with the managers of each of these companies directly and they are aware of my findings and my concerns.
The Portland Based company is Finex. Interestingly, I cannot find a search bar on their website – and on the pages I thumb through, I can no longer find the word “brass” (which used to appear in the description of the handle knob). However, the online retailers that sell their product (Williams Sonoma, Fine Occasion, Schoolhouse and others) still highlight the “brass knob” as a selling point.
I tested products from this brand (newly purchased by consumers) in 2017 and 2018, and in each case the brass end-knobs on the handles tested positive for lead in the 30,000 to 40,000 ppm range. [UPDATE: Now on the last day of 2020, I am not aware that they have made any changes to their manufacturing and materials choices for their products.]
[Just for fun, I also tested them with a reagent swab — and the swab instantly turned red!]
When the company was first made aware of my concerns for lead in their product they contacted me directly about possibly having me meet with them to do some additional testing, then I didn’t hear back from them (this was over a year ago.)
When several owners of these pans who are also my followers, friends and fans (mostly from social media and some IRL (in real life) friends) contacted them about this concern, they were told by the company that when ordering new product you can order a lead-free knob on the end of the handle (I believe in stainless) but that the company will not replace nor exchange previously purchased products with the leaded knobs free of charge.
I do think it is interesting that I cannot find reference to the brass (leaded) knobs on their site (4/27/2018), and so I think there may be a chance they have addressed the issue. It may just be the lighting, but the metal in some of the promotional photos on the company site now appears slightly different than the leaded brass knobs I originally photographed last year and again this year. However (to my knowledge), there has been no public announcement about the lead in their product, no attempt at a voluntary recall, and customers have been told that no free replacements are available for recently purchased leaded products as recently as February 2018.
To demonstrate that this appears to be a new fashion trend in kitchenware, here are some similar potentially leaded products on Amazon* from other companies:
Please be clear that I am not in any way aiming to “take down” a local Portland, Oregon company (making what otherwise seems to be a beautiful, well-crafted line of serious kitchen tools)! But they have been given a chance to acknowledge/address this and (to my knowledge) have not done so.
Given the modular nature of the Finex design, the fix should be simple: cease using leaded brass accent components in their cookware and offer a free replacement component to those who have purchased one of the leaded brass ones unknowingly. However to my knowledge (as of the time of publishing this post) they are doing nothing to fix this problem and they are still offering Leaded brass inventory (with no mention of the concern for Lead) through all of third party retailers I could find [even if this inventory may not be directly available or promoted on their site or in their brick and mortar store].
The Italian-based company (with products sold directly – in person and online – by a Los Angeles area boutique in Brentwood) is called Eligo.
These are very trendy copper-clad stainless pans with (again) leaded brass handles — the part of the pan that is touched by human hands the most frequently!
When preliminary XRF testing was done on these pots and pans the handles came in (again) in the 30,000 to 40,000 ppm range for lead (this preliminary testing done in February of 2018 on new-in-store products.)
I have spoken with the manager of the store that is selling these; I have e-mailed her to follow up; and I have offered to educate the owner of the store (who happens to be a celebrity) about the concern as well [no follow up call yet, but I will make myself available when she calls!]
The biggest concern I have with this brand (and the U.S. boutique selling them) is that the focus of the boutique is that everything in their store is a more healthful alternative.
While this brand of pans is not specifically labeled “non-toxic” in their marketing materials, other pans the boutique sell (pans which also have brass handles – see below) are labeled “non-toxic” — and consumers who purchase things from this boutique assume a certain level of responsibility when it comes to toxicity especially.
I would love to also test the brass-handled Odine pan – which is the one from this boutique that is sold and marketed as “nontoxic“. [There is a chance they are using lead-free brass in the handles on this more expensive set (one pan costs more than $1,200!), but I did not see anything in their online literature about the brass for this product being in any way lead-free (or the brass component specifically being nontoxic), so I will assume that – until I can get my hands on one of these pans to test – it may likely also have high lead in the brass handles, like the similar being sold in the store that I have tested.]
As always, I invite these companies to respond (and I invite questions from my readers.) I would love to work with these companies to create and promote non-toxic, lead-free alternatives — and I would especially love to work with boutiques like this one in Los Angeles to help them fully live up to their non-toxic promise.
If companies working today to create a new breed of heirloom-quality cookware actually took toxicity (of all components) into account, we could truly have a better future for our families. Not only might our children’s kitchens be lead-free, but the insidious deep mining, processing and refining of neurotoxic lead to make this cookware would no longer be required, so the companies would be helping to create a healthier planet!
One thing I mentioned to the manager boutique in Los Angeles is that they have a real opportunity here…they are in a position that they could spearhead a trend: they could be vocal about demanding lead-free cookware from their manufacturing sources. Their powerful voice could be crucial in creating awareness of the concern for lead in consumer goods (and especially lead in modern cookware) so that consumers at all socio-economic levels begin demanding genuinely, consistently nontoxic products for their families. Not only could they end up with a #LeadSafeMama “seal of approval” for their business, but they could help generate a demand for lead-free cookware that would permeate the industry — from the high-end specialty purveyors down to the high-volume mass-market manufacturers, distributors, and retailers.
While it could easily be anticipated that the manufacturer and retail response to this post might be defensive and angry, let’s see who steps up to the plate to be proactive, progressive – and the most important “p” – protective of human health with their business practices moving forward!
Thank you for reading!