New York City Health Department Launches Campaign on Lead Exposure for the South Asian Community

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NEW YORK– The Health Department of New York City announced an awareness campaign on lead exposure specifically for the South Asian community. While peeling lead paint remains the primary source of lead exposure in young children among all races and ethnicities, some traditional consumer products used in the South Asian community can contain lead.

These products include the cosmetics and religious powders kohl, kajal, surma and sindoor; spices bought in South Asian countries, especially turmeric and chili powders; and certain Ayurvedic medicines.

The campaign advises New Yorkers about the health risks of lead exposure, provides recommendations on how to reduce exposure and encourages blood lead testing for New Yorkers who use or come into contact with these products. It will appear in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens, in communities with large South Asian populations.

The campaign will run in English, Hindi, Urdu, and Bengali. Ads will appear on bus shelters, newspapers, neighborhood shops and online, and an accompanying brochure will be widely distributed. The Health Department has also been partnering with community-based organizations to raise awareness of this important issue. The $500,000 campaign will run through March. The South Asian lead campaign is part of LeadFreeNYC, the City’s roadmap to eliminating childhood lead exposure.

“Some South Asian cosmetics, religious powders, Ayurvedic medicines and spices can contain lead, but lead may not be listed on the products’ packaging,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot. “We want the South Asian community to be aware of this potential hazard and be careful when using these types of products. Children and pregnant women who use these products are especially at risk, but lead can be harmful to people of all ages. The more often a person uses these products, the greater the health risk. Users of these types of products should speak with their doctor and ask for a blood lead test.”

“I applaud the NYC Health Department for its work to ensure South Asian residents have the tools they need to make informed health decisions,” said State Senator Luis Sepúlveda. “From peeling lead paint to unsafe consumer products, this awareness campaign marks a needed step toward recognizing the goal of health equity for South Asian families.”

“Lead poisoning is a serious and deadly issue in our state,” said Assemblywoman Nathalia Fernandez. “With the wave of recent campaigns to raise awareness of high lead levels within old apartment buildings and NYCHA complexes, it is equally important to bring attention to our immigrant communities who may be in danger of over exposure as well. This campaign allocating funds to target the South Asian community of potential lead related health risks is a necessary step towards promoting good health and awareness.”

Lead is a harmful metal that can cause serious health problems in both children and adults. When exposed to lead, children can develop learning and behavior problems. In adults, lead exposure can increase the risk of miscarriage in pregnant women and infertility in both men and women.

Lead exposure is preventable. What can you do to protect yourself?

  • Be aware that some products may contain lead, such as certain spices, traditional medicines, cosmetics and ceramic ware. Visit nyc.gov/leadfree for more information.
  • Building owners are required to safely fix peeling paint. Report peeling or damaged paint to your building owner. If they do not fix the paint, you can report them online (nyc.gov/311) or by calling 311.
  • Keep children away from peeling paint and renovations.
  • Wash floors and windowsills often. Wash children’s hands and toys too.
  • Remove shoes before entering your home.
  • If someone in your household works with lead, wash work clothes separately from the family laundry.

Get tested

A blood test is the only way to find out if you or your child has an elevated blood lead level. In New York State, children must be tested for elevated blood lead levels at ages 1 and 2, and screened for risk up to age 6. Ask your doctor about testing older children if you think they may have been exposed to lead. Pregnant women should be assessed for lead exposure at their first prenatal visit. Users of any products that may contain lead should also get a blood lead test. Call 311 for help finding a doctor or clinic.

The Health Department, through its Healthy Homes and Environmental Health Assessment and Communication Programs, have developed a comprehensive approach to address elevated blood lead levels in children and adults and to reduce lead hazards in homes and communities. This includes follow-up investigations of individuals with elevated blood lead levels, environmental interventions and enforcement activities, education and outreach, surveillance and research.

Under LeadFreeNYC, New York City will:

  • Reduce the amount of lead in paint and dust that triggers remediation and abatement to the lowest level of any major U.S. city
  • Require annual inspections of apartments in 1- and 2-family homes previously excluded from the City’s lead paint regime
  • Expand the use of stop work orders from the Department of Buildings when the Health Department finds lead exposure risks during construction
  • Immediately ensure children have access to blood lead level testing whenever a housing inspector identifies  a lead paint hazard
  • Provide a dedicated nurse to any child with an elevated blood lead level to coordinate care
  • Launch ad campaigns promoting testing for children in communities with low testing rates, to raise awareness about free water testing kits provided by the City, and promoting awareness of harmful consumer products containing lead
  • Test all 135,000 NYCHA apartments where lead has not been ruled out
  • Proactively test and remediate all lead sources in shelters
  • Establish a new Lead-Free Designation for homes where all lead has been eliminated
  • Publish a Lead Products Index of consumer goods like spices and ceramics that contain lead, consolidating Health Department rules to protect retailers and consumers
  • Expedite service line replacement beginning with low-income homes
  • Reduce lead exposure risks from soil by offering free clean topsoil to community gardens and surveying NYCHA playgrounds to cover exposed soil when needed.

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