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QUESTION: Is ingesting 0.06 grams per month of a Chinese herbal supplement containing 1.5 parts per million lead unhealthy? 23/06/09   Donegal County, Ireland

I've recently started taking some Chinese Herbal Supplements and due to concern I had about the manufacturing process in China, I had the vitamins sent to a lab and screened for heavy metals.  Of the 8 bottles I sent, all from the same plant, 1 of the bottles had traces of lead.  It indicated it had 1.5 parts per million; I have been consuming about .06 grams of this monthly.

My question:  Is this an unhealthy level?  What if I'm pregnant, does the answer change?  Finally, if this is an unhealthy level, should I stop taking the other vitamins produced in the same plant even though the batch I tested had not lead detected?

Your thoughtful response would be most appreciated.  I've been searching online and can't find any help on appropriate levels.

Kind regards,


ANSWER: Jun 23 2009

Dear Alanna,

there are two aspects to ingesting 0.06 grams per month of a herbal supplement containing 1.5 parts per million (equivalent to 1.5 micrograms per gram) lead. Given that each atom of lead absorbed does damage and you want to avoid it as much as is possible, it's important to know how much of the lead you ingest (or inhale from the air) is absorbed and how much lead is already in your body. Both these aspects of the problem can be ascertained by asking your doctor for a blood lead test. Assuming you are an adult and have not lived in Japan all your life (Japan was the first country to phaseout leaded petrol/gasoline in 1986), you have likely been breathing lead in air for much of your life and therefore would register some lead in your blood. Even though your body lead burden is mainly stored in your bones, some lead is always passing out of the bones and back into the bloodstream which is why no one on the planet since lead was added to petrol has ever had a blood lead level of zero. Your blood lead level due to past exposure is added to daily by current lead absorption, so your current blood lead level is the most important thing for you to find out to make all decisions on whether your current intake is unhealthy. Whether you are pregnant or not, we recommend that you ensure that your blood lead level is below 2 micrograms per decilitre. If it's more than that, you need to figure out where you are getting lead from today. For instance you may need to test your drinking water or dust wipes from windowsills if you live in an old house with lead paint, especially if it has ever been dry-sanded, or soil if you grow your own vegies. In case it helps to know it, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reduced the amount of lead permitted in candy from 0.5 parts per millions (ppm) to 0.1 ppm lead in 2006. See

Another product (apart from herbal supplements) that is ingested in very small quantities, is lipstick. Lipstick lead levels are often compared to permissible candy lead levels.

I hope this helps

Kind regards

Yours Sincerely

Elizabeth O'Brien

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