Boston Study Reveals Religious Powder Sindoor Can Have 50 Percent Lead Content
By SUSAN DONALDSON JAMES
March 15, 2010
Visi Tilak, a writer, musician and artist who emigrated from India, prepares her children's daily meals with fragrant spices that are a staple of Indian cooking, including tumeric, coriander and garam masala.
"They have been exposed to Indian spices since they were born," said the Ashland, Mass., mother of a 1-year-old and a 6-year-old.
Now, a study published today in Pediatrics magazine said young children who regularly ingest some imported Indian spices may be exposed to lead -- a dangerous neurotoxin.
The study, conducted from 2006 to 2008, followed patients from the Pediatric Environmental Health Center at Children's Hospital in Boston who had ingested or been exposed to Indian spices and powders.
One 12-month-old boy in the case study was found to have lead poisoning after regularly eating spices such as tumeric, black mustard seed and asafetida.
When the family discontinued use of the spices, his blood lead levels went down within six months.
But of greater concern to researchers are religious powders like cherry-colored "sindoor" -- which is applied cosmetically on the skin and which Tilak also uses routinely in her home.
Some of these ritual powders comprise 47 to 64 percent lead, according to the study, and can be particularly dangerous when applied on young children.