Lead chromate, a chemical compound comprising lead and chromium, is a yellow pigment that can enhance the brightness of a substance. It is also poisonous, acting as a neurotoxin when humans ingest or inhale it.
Experts consider lead unsafe in any quantity as it leads to cognitive defects. Usually, manufacturers use lead chromate to give yellow and orange oils and paints their color.
However, previous research has identified turmeric as a source of lead exposure across many turmeric-producing districts in Bangladesh.
Turmeric is an essential spice that many people consume daily in South Asia. It also has some medicinal uses. It may potentially treat inflammation and have healing effects across many conditions, including cancer.
Adulteration of spices is not unusual, and the addition of toxic agents to spices is common. However, the addition of lead chromate to turmeric threatens public health in Bangladesh. The researchers behind the present study wanted to assess the effect of this practice and its regulation.
In the first instance, the researchers found that the adulteration of turmeric with lead chromate was an issue stretching back to the 1980s, when people first used it to enhance the color of turmeric that flooding had left dull.
Some members of the team had previously investigated the various potential sources of blood lead level contamination in people in Bangladesh.
They did this by looking at the different isotopes of lead, which allowed them to create a chemical signature known as a fingerprint for lead-adulterated turmeric.
Their findings, available in Environmental Science & Technology, showed that this was the most likely culprit for the origin of lead in people’s blood, making the study the first to link lead in turmeric directly to lead levels in the blood.