Childhood lead poisoning in 2 families associated with spices used in food preparation

Pediatrics. 2005 Aug;116(2):e314-8. doi: 10.1542/peds.2004-2884.


Although most cases of childhood lead poisoning are caused by contaminated paint and dust in older homes, a variety of unusual sources of lead exposure are occasionally found. We report here 2 families whose children were poisoned by lead-contaminated spices that were purchased in foreign countries, brought to the United States, and then used in the preparation of the family's food. Six children (2-17 years old) in a family from the Republic of Georgia were poisoned by swanuri marili (lead content: 100 and 2040 mg/kg in separately sampled products) and kharchos suneli (zafron) lead content: 23,100 mg/kg) purchased from a street vendor in Tbilisi, Georgia. The second family had purchased a mixture of spices called kozhambu (lead content: 310 mg/kg) while traveling in India. Both the parents and their 2-year-old child subsequently suffered lead poisoning. The young children in both families required short-term chelation to bring their blood lead levels down to a safer range. Clinicians should be vigilant for all sources of lead contamination, including spices, when whole families are found to have elevated blood lead levels despite a confirmed lead-safe home environment. Families traveling abroad should be aware of the potential health risks associated with the purchase and use of spices that have not been tested for purity.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Food Contamination*
  • Humans
  • Lead / analysis
  • Lead / blood
  • Lead Poisoning / diagnosis
  • Lead Poisoning / etiology*
  • Lead Poisoning / therapy
  • Spices* / analysis


  • Lead