The number of pediatric cases of elevated blood lead levels (BLLs) are decreasing in North Carolina. However, one county reported an increase in the number of children with confirmed BLLs ≥5 μg/dL, from 27 in 2013 to 44 in 2017.
Many children with elevated BLLs in this county lived in new housing, but samples of spices, herbal remedies, and ceremonial powders from their homes contained high levels of lead. Children with chronic lead exposure might suffer developmental delays and behavioral problems. In 1978, lead was banned from house paint in the United States (1); however, children might consume spices and herbal remedies daily.
To describe the problem of lead in spices, herbal remedies, and ceremonial powders, the North Carolina Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (NCCLPPP) retrospectively examined properties where spices, herbal remedies, and ceremonial powders were sampled that were investigated during January 2011-January 2018, in response to confirmed elevated BLLs among children. NCCLPPP identified 59 properties (6.0% of all 983 properties where home lead investigations had been conducted) that were investigated in response to elevated BLLs in 61 children. More than one fourth (28.8%) of the spices, herbal remedies, and ceremonial powders sampled from these homes contained ≥1 mg/kg lead. NCCLPPP developed a survey to measure child-specific consumption of these products and record product details for reporting to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Lead contamination of spices, herbal remedies, and ceremonial powders might represent an important route of childhood lead exposure, highlighting the need to increase product safety. Setting a national maximum allowable limit for lead in spices and herbal remedies might further reduce the risk for lead exposure from these substances.
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