Heavy metal-laden African morning sickness remedy now found in New York City

Just before Christmas, the US FDA issued a warning regarding a clay-based traditional West African remedy for morning sickness called Nzu or Calabar or Calabash clay. We discussed this topic here when the initial health warning came out from Texas.

The problem with the product is that it contains high levels of lead and arsenic that could be toxic to both fetus and mother.

And now the problem has expanded beyond Texas.

Scott Gavura at his excellent Science-Based Pharmacy blog tweeted earlier that the New York City Department of Health issued a similar warning today:

Calabash chalk.jpgFebruary 16, 2010 - A traditional morning sickness remedy, commonly known as calabash chalk, has been found to contain lead and arsenic, the Health Department warned today. The agency warns pregnant women not to use the product, which was recently found in local New York City stores selling African remedies. The Health Department was alerted to the potential hazard by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The chalk-like substance - also known as calabash clay, nzu, poto, calabar stone, mabele, argile or la craie - can be sold as large pellets or in blocks that resemble clay or mud. It is often packaged in clear plastic bags, with or without labeling. The remedy is used mainly by women from West African communities.

As shown above, the product looks like innocuous chalk. But the city is alerting both consumers and health care providers:

"Using calabash chalk is unhealthy for pregnant women and their unborn children," said Nancy Clark, assistant commissioner for the Health Department's Environmental Disease Prevention Bureau. "And the sale of these products is illegal." Anyone who has used calabash chalk should call the Poison Control Center at 212-POISONS (764-7667). The Poison Control Center does not check immigration status, and its services are available in many languages. . .

. . .The Health Department is also alerting city healthcare providers about the use of calabash chalk. If you suspect you may have been poisoned, call the Poison Control Center at 212-POISONS (764-7667) or 212-VENENOS (836-3667) for Spanish speakers.

As we have quite a few readers in the New York City Tri-State area, please pass the word around, particularly if you work with colleagues who are from West African countries.

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