Federal health officials are warning that the eye remedy and cosmetic known as Tiro is loaded with lead, which could cause lead poisoning in children.
Tiro is a Nigerian folk remedy that is applied to the eyes of children. It is believed to make them more attractive and to ensure good visual development. However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned in an August 3 report that the substance is more than 80% lead and can cause developmental problems and even death.
CDC investigators became aware of Tiro after Boston Children’s Hospital reported that a 6-month old male infant was brought in with elevated blood lead levels (BLLs) that were double what the CDC considers safe. The parents lived in a townhouse with no problems with lead paint and there was no other obvious source to account for the high lead levels until the Tiro that was placed on his eyes daily was tested.
Investigators found that the Tiro contained 82.6% lead. The CDC suspects that similar products, such as Surma and Kajal, used by Asian immigrants, and kohl, used by Middle Eastern immigrants, could have similarly high lead levels. However, those products have not yet been tested.
“Educational efforts are needed to inform immigrants from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East that tiro and similar products can cause lead poisoning in children,” the CDC report states. “Health-care providers and public health workers should ask about eye cosmetics and folk remedies when seeking a source of exposure in children with elevated BLLs from certain immigrant populations.”
Lead poisoning can result in nervous system injury, brain damage, seizures or convulsions, growth or mental retardation, coma and even death for young children.
One of the more common causes of of lead poisoning is lead-based paint, which was banned in the United States 1978 due to the risk of severe and permanent brain damage and developmental problems, particularly in children. However, a number of older homes still contain the toxic paint on the walls, and if it flakes or peals off, young children could ingest the paint chips or breathe dust that comes from the paint, resulting in lead poisoning.
The CDC has been cataloging what it calls non-paint lead sources and has warned that immigrant populations appear to be particularly at risk. Not only because they often live in inner city housing that may have paint problems, but because some use folk remedies that are often a significant source of lead poisoning among their children.