Lead poisoning case prompts warning

Family used powder meant for religious rite in food preparation

Staff Writer

Staff Writer

WOODBRIDGE — Township health officials have issued a warning regarding the lead content of sindoor, a powder used in South Asian religious ceremonies.

The action comes after a 13-month-old baby and her parents developed lead poisoning after they ingested the cosmetic powder by using it to color their food.

Woodbridge Health Department investigators gave advisory notices to the owners of 10 stores in Woodbridge that sell the powder that can contain levels of lead as high as 60 percent, according to a township press release. The notices, which investigators requested be posted in the businesses that cater to a South Asian clientele, were written in four languages, English, Hindi, Urdu and Tamil.

A flier was also sent to area restaurants, delis and fast food establishments warning these businesses not to use sindoor in food preparation.

Anupama Gajjar, manager of Dana Bazaar, Oak Tree Avenue in Iselin, said she sells sindoor in her store, individually, and in a package that supplies its buyer with all the necessary items for a Hindu puja, the act of showing reverence to a god or spirit. Along with the sindoor, the package contains incense, a god picture and other items for the ritual.

Gajjar said she has never heard of anyone using sindoor as a food coloring.

"This is not a food coloring," she said, holding the package. "I’ve never heard of it [being used in food]. Never."

Although several South Asian business owners said using sindoor in food was unusual, the township said it acted to educate everyone in the community.

"Once you have a problem isolated and confined, you have to provide education that prevents it from happening again," Mayor Frank Pelzman stated in the release.

The township has contacted, via a letter, township preschools alerting educators of the signs of lead or general food-related poisoning among the students.

"Children under the age of 6 are very susceptible to lead poisoning and the symptoms vary," Health Department Director Patrick Hanson said. "A simple blood test by a physician can determine whether a child has lead poisoning."

For more information about lead poisoning or screening, call (732) 855-0600 ext. 5011.