The severity of lead contamination in the US came to light due to a water crisis in Flint, Michigan. The crisis devastated communities, and the effects of it can still be felt. Unfortunately, the causes of lead poisoning aren’t simply confined to water.
Today, a new threat is leading to cases of contamination across the US: turmeric. Turmeric is commonly used in cooking, and in itself, has many health benefits, contributing to its popularity. As noted below, the effects of lead exposure can be serious and often irreversible, and so it is important to make sure your turmeric is chemically-free and isn’t contaminated. Preventing this exposure early on is key, so as to avoid the long term health effects as well as socio-economic problems that result from lead contamination. To further examine this, let’s take a look at some of the long-standing effects following the lead contamination disaster in Flint.
Even today, residents are still afraid to drink tap water, turning to other alternatives so as to avoid lead contamination. Soon after the crisis, Flint was hit with another with another scandal of sorts: An article by the University of Nevada, Reno reports that “Health department officials in Genesee County — where Flint is located — announced a significant increase in reported cases of shigellosis, a bacterial illness propagated by poor hygiene and lack of hand-washing.”
Considering the purposeful avoidance of tap water, this news doesn’t seem entirely shocking. For the residents of Flint, many of whom may still be afraid to drink or bathe in the tap water that has been highly publicized to be heavily contaminated with lead, adhering to good hand hygiene can be challenging. Thus, lead poisoning continues to pose a major threat, even after the initial crisis was resolved.
A Brief History of Lead Contamination in the US
According to Reuters, cities and towns across the United States are finally taking action after a report identified thousands of communities where children were tested with lead poisoning at higher rates than in Flint, Michigan.
Lead poisoning has had a tumultuous history in the United States. In the 1920s, lead was a staple part of the middle-class American home. From telephones to toys, vacuums to paint, lead was everywhere. Even though lead was known to be toxic as early as late 19th century, manufactures effectively marketed it as integral to America’s economic growth. Lead paint was promoted, and considering the nation’s post-Depression desires for new, bright colors, manufacturers found it relatively easy to make the case for this toxic substance.
By the 1950s, many children has been exposed to the toxic substance, leading to mounting pressures on the lead industry. Health officials documented a rising number of contamination cases, where even a small amount of lead ingestion resulted in irreversible damage. Newspapers started to report the toxicity in terms of lead in wall paint, toys, and water. Lead became a national problem, and even decades later, new discoveries in the 1970s and 1980s showed that the lead problem was still prevalent, even in homes where the most obvious lead sources, like chipped paint and window sashes, had been removed.
A New Threat
Today, lead contamination continues to exist, albeit in a muted fashion across the nation. The latest source of lead contamination, quite surprisingly, is turmeric. Turmeric is a spice that belongs to the ginger family commonly used in cooking, especially in South Asian and Middle Eastern dishes.
Today, there are growing concerns that turmeric is being adulterated with lead chromate, a bright yellow pigment. There are theories that some producers intentionally mix this into turmeric to enhance its weight, color, or both. In turn, this boosts sales due to a prettier and weightier product. Additionally, since turmeric is grown in places where lead from pesticides easily seeps into the ground, the root is at risk of absorbing lead anyways.
In the past few years, there have been several recalls of lead-contaminated turmeric. The US FDA has also issued an import alert, which allows ports to detain shipments from specific importers from India and Bangladesh. Just recently, in 2016, seven brands of turmeric distributed by Gel Spice Inc. were recalled. Even curry powder, of which turmeric is a key ingredient, has been recalled.
How to Source Turmeric
Considering the adverse effects of lead contamination, including memory loss, kidney dysfunction, and irreversible brain damage, it stands to reason that anyone would be circumspect about buying and using turmeric.
However, turmeric has too many health benefits and adds a distinctly wonderful flavor to food to be immediately disregarded. In ancient Indian Ayurveda, turmeric is said to have healing and anti-inflammatory properties. It fights chronic inflammatory diseases and can help diabetics to improve disrupted inflammatory pathways. Turmeric also has superficial applications, like the reduction of dark circles and under eye bags when applied to the skin, as well as scar reduction for wounds.
So how does one effectively source this spice without fearing exposure to toxic lead? The best way to get non-contaminated turmeric is to buy the curcumin root and grind it into turmeric powder yourself. It’s best to choose organic root producers, so that pesticides aren’t an issue. If grinding the root yourself is not an option, you can buy turmeric from companies that do their own lead testing, and do it often.
Supply lines can be very complicated, so it is vital to choose a company that does that testing themselves as opposed to outsourcing it, or else there isn’t a guarantee that contamination did not occur somewhere along the supply line. With recent findings of lead levels in this spice, many stores do stock organic chemical-free turmeric. These specialty stores often charge more than a regular supermarket, but the increased cost is worth the quality assurance.
Turmeric, as a true super spice, deserves to be enjoyed. By correctly sourcing it and being aware of surrounding concerns, it is easy to enjoy this spice without fear of lead contamination.