Children exposed to household items that contain lead such as spices, herbal remedies, ceremonial powders, and topical remedies may be at risk for increased blood lead levels (BLLs), according to researched published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

From January 2011 to January 2018, the North Carolina Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (NCCLPPP) examined spices, herbal remedies, and ceremonial powders found in the homes of children that could potentially increase BLLs. Elevated BLLs in children are defined by the state as 2 consecutive tests resulting in ≥5 μg/dL within a 12-month period.

Home lead investigations were conducted at 983 properties; information including year of home construction, evidence of previous lead identification in the home, and samples of lead paint, water, soil, consumer products, and foods was submitted to the North Carolina State Laboratory of Public Health for analysis. Samples of spices, herbal remedies, and ceremonial powders found with <15 mg/kg of lead were investigated further using an inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer.

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A total of 59 properties were further investigated as a result of elevated BLLs found in 61 children. The average age of children was 2.3 years; average initial BLL was 17.0 μg/dL, and the average diagnostic BLL was 15.2 μg/dL. Properties were from 8 counties in North Carolina, and 42 of 59 (71%) were built after 1978.

A total of 392 samples of spices, herbal remedies, and ceremonial powders were collected from the 59 properties; 6 were excluded. For the remaining 386 samples, 344 (89%) were food items including spices and herbal remedies, and 42 (11%) were items not intended for food such as ceremonial powders. Average lead levels of ≥1 mg/kg were identified in 50 product categories; among 177 samples included in these categories, 111 (62.7%) were contaminated with ≥1 mg/kg of lead, including 76 (22.0%) items of consumption and 35 (83.3%) of nonconsumption.

Among non-food items, the highest average lead levels were detected in kumkum (12,185 mg/kg), sindoor (41,401 mg/kg) and surma (68,000 mg/kg). Edible items such as saffron supplement (2,764 mg/kg), Balguti Kesaria (220 mg/kg), and turmeric (66 mg/kg) were found to have the highest average lead levels.

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“Lead poisoning prevention professionals should educate parents about the potential for lead exposure from spices, herbal remedies, and ceremonial powders by making educational materials available in several languages at festivals, places of worship, and other community centers,” the authors stated. “Keeping ceremonial powders out of reach of children can prevent their accidental consumption, and testing of children who consume spices or herbal remedies regularly might lead to earlier detection of elevated BLLs.”


Angelon-Gaetz KA, Klaus C, Chaudhry EA, Bean DK. Lead in spices, herbal remedies, and ceremonial powders sampled from home investigations for children with elevated blood lead levels — North Carolina, 2011–2018. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2018;67(46):1290-1294.