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Lead found in turmeric powder

  • Published at 12:10 am October 15th, 2019
turmeric powder
Turmeric Powder Bigstock

BFSA warns that lead is particularly dangerous for pregnant mothers

Researchers have detected lead in turmeric powder available in various parts of Bangladesh, raising serious health concerns.

Following the publication of a recent study, the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA) has warned all stakeholders not to produce, process, store, transport, buy, sell, or use adulterated turmeric powder. 

The study was jointly conducted by Stanford University, USA and International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b).

Lead is a toxic substance that may lead to nerve and brain damage, heart, digestive and pulmonary disease, or even death. It is particularly dangerous for pregnant mothers, as it can cause stunted growth and birth defects in unborn children.

The BFSA notice said lead was found in turmeric powder samples as lead chromate is used by some unscrupulous traders to artificially brighten the colour of the spice.

BFSA Chairman Sayeda Sarwar Jahan told Dhaka Tribune a team of the regulator, in cooperation with icddr,b visited wholesalers to detect turmeric that contained lead chromate in different parts of Dhaka. While adulterated turmeric was found in some areas, it was absent in others.

“First, we have to detect where the mixing of turmeric with lead chromate is taking place, and then we can go for enforcement by mobile court,” she added. 

She further said letters would soon be sent to the eleven deputy commissioners of districts where significant quantities of adulterated turmeric were found, asking them to monitor the situation and take legal action. 

How is lead mixed with turmeric?

The study, which was published in Environmental Research journal on September 23, was conducted on samples collected from nine districts where turmeric is produced. Lead chromate was found in the turmeric powder from seven districts.

 “Dhaka and Munshiganj topped the chart for the highest level of lead-adulterated turmeric, with lead concentration at 1,152 μg (micrograms) per gram of turmeric,” said Professor Stephen P Luby, professor of medicine at Stanford University and senior author of the study.

“Unlike other metals, there is no safe consumption limit for lead; even small doses are toxic to the brain,” Prof Luby added. “We cannot console ourselves by proposing that if the contamination were down to such and such a level, it would have been safe.”

Lead chromate is applied during the polishing process, when the skin is removed from turmeric roots. It is applied in order to make low-quality turmeric resemble higher quality turmeric by brightening its colour.   

These findings are based on over 500 samples of turmeric, pigments, dust, and soil and over 150 interviews across the turmeric supply chain, said Dr Mahbubur Rahman, co-author of the study and project coordinator at icddr,b Environmental Interventions Unit. 

Soil samples from polishing mills contained a maximum of 4,257 μg (micrograms) lead per gram of soil.

Dr Sharmeen Ahmed , professor of the department of microbiology and immunology at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), said if lead enters the human body in any way, it will not come out and can damage the kidney and brain.