Turmeric Health Alert: Study Reveals Lead Chromate Contamination, Swift Action Ensues in Bangladesh

Lead chromate, employed to enhance the color of turmeric, has emerged as a health hazard, according to a recent study by Jenna Forsyth from Stanford University. In rural areas of Bangladesh, where turmeric is a dietary staple, unexpectedly elevated blood lead levels have been detected, primarily linked to turmeric consumption.

The research, led by Forsyth, an engineer specializing in contaminants research, pinpointed turmeric as the primary source of lead exposure. This exposure was traced back to a practice initiated in the 1980s when flooding in Bangladesh prompted the addition of lead chromate during the turmeric polishing stage as a quick economic solution to salvage crops. Ironically, the processors were not even aware of the toxicity of the pigment.

Lead is well-known for its toxicity to humans, causing cardiovascular and kidney issues in adults and impeding the cognitive development of children. The economic ramifications of reduced IQ in children, coupled with lead-induced health problems, are estimated to be substantial.

Concerns about lead in turmeric first garnered attention in 2014, leading to its withdrawal in South Asia. The fragmented supply chain in Bangladesh raised further challenges, with local turmeric having a different supply chain than the export-bound crop.

In response to Forsyth’s findings, the Food Safety Authority (FSA) of Bangladesh took decisive action. An awareness campaign targeted consumers, urging them to choose less colorful turmeric roots and opt for reputable packaged products. Despite these efforts, economically disadvantaged consumers who could only afford loose turmeric powder faced continued challenges.

The FSA undertook public inspections, imposed fines, and employed improved detection technology to swiftly enforce regulations. The combination of awareness, detection, and policy enforcement led to a significant reduction in lead prevalence in turmeric in Bangladesh, dropping from 47% to zero within a few months.

Ongoing efforts involve tracking and analyzing blood lead levels in the population, accompanied by widespread turmeric screening across South Asia. These initiatives aim to contribute to the ongoing safeguarding of public health in the region.

Looking ahead, stakeholders remain vigilant, ensuring the safety of turmeric consumption through continued monitoring, education, and policy reinforcement in Bangladesh and throughout South Asia.

Source: Inputs from various media Sources

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Priya Bairagi

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