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Why sindoor in your bindi may be bad for babies

New York: Sindoor, a red powder used during Hindu religious and cultural ceremonies, has unsafe levels of lead, a highly toxic poison associated with lower IQ, behavioural problems and growth delays in children, says a study that examined samples of the cosmetic powder collected from India and the US.

Sindoor, also called vermillion, is used by women to place a bindi, or red dot, cosmetically on their foreheads. Married women also put it in their hair and it is used by men and children for religious purposes.

In a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, the researchers reported that 83 per cent of the samples collected from the US in New Jersey and 78 per cent collected from India had at least 1.0 microgram of lead per gram of cosmetic powder.

About one-third of the samples exceeded the 20 microgram of lead per gram of cosmetic powder limit imposed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“There is no safe level of lead,” said co-author of the study Derek Shendell, Associate Professor at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

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“That’s why we believe sindoor powder shouldn’t be sold or brought into the United States unless it is lead free,” Shendell said.

Lead is a highly toxic poison associated with lower IQ, behavioral problems and growth delays in children who often are exposed hand to mouth.

In the study, the researchers, including Manthan Shah, a scientist with the US Environmental Protection Agency, tested 118 samples of sindoor, which included 95 from South Asian stores in New Jersey and 23 from stores in Mumbai and New Delhi.

Although other cosmetics such as kajal and tiro, eye products used in India and Nigeria, have been banned by the FDA because of elevated lead content, the FDA only issued a general warning about sindoor after testing by the Illinois Department of Health a decade ago discovered a high lead content in one brand.

The researchers said at a minimum there is a need to monitor sindoor lead levels and make the public aware of the potential hazards.

“We should be screening children from the south Asian community to make sure they do not have elevated levels of lead in their blood, before we discover more dead brain cells,” William Halperin, Professor at Rutgers University, said.

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