According to New York City officials, many are blind to the perils of imported eye cosmetics.
The officials are warning the public about the use of such eye makeup products known as kajal, kohl and surma which are imported from Asia, Middle East and North Africa. These products used traditionally by ladies to beautify the eyes are believed to contain above 50 percent lead, a known toxin.
Lead poisoning can lead to cognitive and behavioral problems in children as well as damage the kidneys, nervous system and reproductive system of those who ingest it, say health authorities.
At particular risk are pregnant women and their unborn children, say NYC officials. In fact, a case of lead poisoning registered in five pregnant women led to the recent warnings against the imported eye cosmetics.
Warns Nancy Clark, assistant commissioner of environmental disease prevention at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: "Children won't feel or look sick at all, but there could be problems with learning and behavior."
Clark said that although the federal Food and Drug Administration bans the import and sale of the cosmetic products, they still end up on shelves in neighborhood stores, particularly those specializing in imported goods.
Consumers cannot distinguish safe brands from dangerous ones because lead is never listed as an ingredient, says the health department. Health officials say they're working with distributors and storeowners to remove the products from shelves and warn customers not to use them.
"It's important that people who use these products stop using them and that they get a blood test," Clark stresses.