Cambodian amulets made with leaded beads, shown to have poisoned a 1-year-old boy in the US, have sparked concerns about the unknown danger of similar lead poisoning in Cambodia, officials said. Amulets were identified as a potential source of lead poisoning among Southeast Asians in a report recently published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The study found a Cambodian-American toddler suffered elevated lead levels after sucking on a knotted necklace bought at a rural Cambodian market. “The likely source of exposure was an amulet made in Cambodia with leaded beads that was worn by the child,” it said. “This case identified a lead risk factor not previously recognized for the Southeast Asian community.”
The report said anecdotal evidence suggested lead bullets were sometimes melted down to make beads for “protection strings” common among Cambodian, Vietnamese, Hmong and Lao people.
Nassir Hassan, World Health Organization environmental health adviser, said there was currently no research on lead poisoning in Cambodia. “It’s important for investigation, but we do not have the money to carry out epidemiological studies,” he said.
Dr Hassan said he would try to bring up the risk with a newly created working group for toxic, chemical and hazardous substances.
Sann Chansoeung, deputy director general for the Health Ministry’s health department, said that WHO officials briefly informed him of the research, but he needed to examine its findings more closely. “Until now, Cambodian people have always worn many different kinds of amulets, but we hadn’t heard of these damaging their health,” Mr Chansoeung said.
After taking her 11-month-old grandson to seek medical treatment for an unspecified illness in Phnom Penh yesterday, Leng Vouch Kray, from Kandal province’s Sa’ang district, said she believed a piece of metal on a string worn by her 11-month-old grandson might be lead.
“I hope it brings the child peace, security and health,” she said.