Honors College Thesis

A Comparative Analysis of Mercury and Lead in Sindoor from the U.S. and Bangladesh

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  • Heavy metals have historically been popular for use in cosmetics manufacturing due to the colorful pigmentation of heavy metal compounds. In the case of sindoor, a cosmetic used by married Hindu women for religious purposes, mercury sulfide, lead tetroxide, and lead chromate are compounds suspected to still be involved in its manufacturing due their red and orange coloration. In the United States, federal regulations have established a criteria of allowable lead in cosmetics at 10 parts per million (ppm) and 65 ppm in mercury. In Bangladesh, such regulations have not been implemented. Consequently, it was anticipated that both mercury and lead content would be higher in Bangladesh sourced sindoor than in U.S. sourced sindoor. The metal content in sindoor samples was determined through quantitative analysis using inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectroscopy (ICP-OES). While it was determined that there was no statistical difference in average lead content between U.S. and Bangladesh samples, 35% of Bangladesh samples contained more than 10 ppm of lead, as opposed to 14% of U.S. samples. Because there was no detectable mercury in any of the samples, it is possible that external factors such as cost and accessibility have incentivized use of lead containing compounds in sindoor manufacturing over mercury containing compounds. These findings indicate that sindoor may potentially be a route of lead exposure for Hindu women in Bangladesh, and further investigation into the manufacturing of sindoor and the people it affects is needed.
  • Key Words: heavy metals, lead, mercury, sindoor, cosmetics, Bangladesh
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