Lead Risk Lurks in Spice Rack
Indian Spices and Ceremonial Powders Linked to Lead Poisoning in Children
March 15, 2010 -- The curry powder in your cabinet may pose a lead poisoning
risk to your children, according to a new study.
Researchers in Boston have linked at least four cases of lead poisoning in
children to the use of Indian spices or ceremonial powders. Further
investigation found one-quarter of the Indian spices and other foodstuffs
tested contained detectable lead levels, and more than half of the ceremonial
and religious powders also contained lead.
For example, the study showed some readily available sindoor powders
contained 47%-64% lead. Sindoor powders are traditionally applied to a woman's
scalp as a marriage sign.
Researchers say immigrant children may be especially at risk for lead
poisoning due to repeated exposure to these products.
"Although the powders are not meant for consumption, we speculate that
infants may inadvertently be exposed by hand-to-mouth transference of topically
applied powders or by the hands of parents who handle the powders and then
prepare foods for the infant's consumption," write researcher Cristiane Gurgel
Lin, MD, PhD, of Children's General Hospital in Boston, and colleagues in
Infants may also be exposed to these products in utero, through
breastfeeding, inhalation, or absorption through the skin.
In the four cases of lead poisoning detailed in the report, all the children
had improved blood lead levels after receiving treatment and/or their parents
discontinued use of the spices or powders.
The cases prompted researchers to analyze 86 imported spices and 71
ceremonial powders available at Boston-area stores. The results showed 22 of
the 86 spices and food products and 46 of the 71 ceremonial powders contained
detectable lead levels.
On average, the imported spices contained double the amount of lead found in
U.S. brands. Researchers say some ceremonial powders had been previously banned
or recalled by the FDA but were still available for sale contained more than
Researchers say similar Indian spices and ceremonial powders are also
available for purchase on the Internet. These results suggest the lead content
of these products pose a public health risk and merit further testing.