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Press Release

Press Release # 006-10
Tuesday, February 16, 2010

MEDIA CONTACT: (212) 788-5290
Jessica Scaperotti/Zoe Tobin:

Health Department Warns of Lead and Arsenic in Morning Sickness Remedy

February 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.

Lead, a toxic metal, is of particular concern for pregnant women and their children. Lead poisoning can cause problems in pregnancy and can lead to learning and behavior problems in young children. The long-term effects can include nerve disorders and brain damage. Arsenic is also a poisonous metal. People with long-term exposures to arsenic may have an increased risk of cancer, skin lesions, eye irritation and nervous-system disorders.

“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 has ordered distributors and storeowners selling calabash chalk to:

  • Immediately stop selling the products.
  • Remove them from shelves and inventory stockrooms.
  • Post a warning sign advising customers to stop using these products.

The Health Department advises people who may have obtained and used these products to:

  • Immediately stop using these products.
  • Call a physician to request a blood-lead test.
  • Keep products away from children.

Call 311 for additional information on calabash chalk or to report locations where these products are sold. More information is also available at

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.