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Dangers of Lead Still Linger

by Dixie Farley

Also, FDA intends to issue industry guidance in 1998 to prohibit use of lead-based (and cadmium-based) pigments for decorating the lip rim area of glassware, says Kashtock. "Use of the pigments may pose only a negligible risk, but it is avoidable."

Calcium products: Some people have expressed concern about lead in calcium supplements. Lead is a common contaminant in calcium from such natural sources as dolomitic limestone and oyster shells, but levels vary considerably from trace amounts to higher levels. However, FDA's Carrington says, "Since calcium intakes decrease lead absorption, supplements that correct low calcium intakes may reduce lead absorption, even though they contain small amounts of lead."

Lead is also found in other calcium sources. For example, lead in milk is usually too low to measure, but FDA's yearly Total Diet Study of foods in grocery stores sometimes detects lead in milk, says Carrington.

FDA has been petitioned to establish a tolerance level for lead in calcium sources used in dietary supplements. According to Robert Moore, Ph.D., of the agency's Office of Special Nutritionals regulatory branch, two petitions propose different tolerance levels--one similar to current industry standards and one considerably lower. FDA is reviewing the issues raised in the two documents.

Progressive hair dyes: Applied over time to gradually color the hair, these dyes contain lead acetate. After studying information on their safety, FDA found that lead exposure from these dyes was insignificant and that the dyes could be used safely, says John Bailey, Ph.D., director of FDA's Office of Cosmetics and Colors. "But we restricted how much could be in the product, and we required specific labeling instructions, including a warning to keep it out of the reach of children."

Kajal and surma, or kohl: These unapproved dyes in certain eye cosmetics from the Middle East contain potentially harmful amounts of lead. A 7-month-old in 1992 had a 39 mcg/dL blood lead level due to surma applied to the lower inner eyelid. Bailey says, "They are sold in stores specializing in Middle East products or brought into the country in personal luggage." He stresses that people using these cosmetics "need to understand the potentially serious health risk."

Foreign digestive remedies: Certain unapproved foreign digestive remedies containing lead include Alarcon, Azarcon, Coral, Greta, Liga, Maria Luisa, or Rueda. Greta, for example, is 99 percent lead oxide.

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