Ground Turmeric as a Source of Lead Exposure in the United States Public Health Reports - Whitney Cowell, Thomas Ireland, Donna Vorhees, Wendy Heiger-Bernays, 2017

Financially motivated adulteration of spices is a long-standing and important public health problem worldwide.1 For example, in 1994, ground paprika adulterated with lead oxide resulted in the poisoning and hospitalization of >50 people in Hungary.2Today, adulteration of turmeric with lead chromate, which is vibrant yellow, is a concern in India and Bangladesh. In this commentary, we summarize a growing body of evidence indicating that turmeric containing excessive concentrations of lead is available for purchase in US grocery stores and that childhood lead-poisoning cases attributable to consumption of contaminated turmeric have occurred in the United States. We hypothesize that turmeric is being intentionally adulterated with lead to enhance its weight, color, or both. Additionally, we review current regulations on spice safety and provide recommendations for consumers, public health professionals, and government agencies charged with ensuring the safety of the US food supply.

In 2010, a report in Pediatrics detailed the case of a 12-month-old boy who was referred to the Pediatric Environmental Health Center at Boston Children’s Hospital with a blood lead level of 28 μg/dL,3 which exceeded the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s reference level of 5 μg/dL.4 After conducting a detailed investigation of the child’s home, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health determined that daily consumption of several lead-contaminated spices, including turmeric, was the primary pathway of exposure.3 Between 2010 and 2014, five other cases of childhood lead poisoning attributable to culinary spice consumption were reported in the United States. The cases were geographically diverse, and all were documented by departments of public health (Arizona,5 California,6 Colorado,7Connecticut,8 and New York9).

Dragon Claw note:

The above information is USA centric.  We do not know the Australian, New Zealand or British context.  If you take turmeric and are worried the solution is to buy fresh turmeric from an Asian grocer.  Please use the FORUM to add additional comments.


Volume: 132 issue: 3, page(s): 289-293

Article first published online: March 30, 2017;Issue published: May 1, 2017