Study finds red powder in Hindu ceremonies has unsafe lead levels

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 4 million households in the United States have children exposed to high lead levels.
By Amy Wallace  |  Sept. 19, 2017 at 4:13 PM
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Sept. 19 (UPI) -- Researchers at Rutgers University report that 83 percent of samples of sindoor, the red cosmetic powder used in Hindu ceremonies, contain unsafe lead levels.

"There is no safe level of lead," Derek Shendell, associate professor of Environmental and Occupational Health in the School of Public Health, said in a news release. "That's why we believe sindoor powder shouldn't be sold or brought into the United States unless it is lead free."

The study, published in the October edition of the American Journal of Public Health, was conducted by researchers from the School of Public Health at Rutgers who tested 118 samples of sindoor, the red colored powder used by Hindu women to place a bindi, or red dot, on their foreheads.

Sindoor is also used by married women in their hair and by men and children for religious purposes.

It found that 83 percent of samples of sindoor collected from New Jersey and 78 percent collected from India had at least 1.0 microgram of lead per gram of cosmetic powder. Nearly 19 percent of the samples collected from New Jersey and 43 percent collected from India exceeded the 20 microgram of lead per gram of cosmetic powder standard from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Other cosmetic products from India have been banned for use in the United States by the FDA for containing high lead levels. The FDA previously issued a general warning about sindoor after testing by the Illinois Department of Health 10 years ago discovered a high lead level in one brand.

Elevated lead levels are associated with lower IQ, behavioral problems and growth delays in young children who are exposed hand to mouth contact.

"We screen kids who live in houses built prior to 1978 with lead-based paint," Halperin said. "We should be screening children from the south Asian community to make sure they do not have elevated levels of lead in their blood, before we discover more dead brain cells."

Researchers urge that at a minimum there needs to be monitoring of sindoor lead levels and a public awareness campaign of the potential hazards of using the product.

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