Story by CAROLINE MCNIEL. Illustration by MARC THOMAS
Follow Morton on Twitter @SeaPeteRun for updates on this research and his adventures in geochemistry.
As a chemical oceanographer, Peter Morton never expected his research to lead him to the grocery store. But a project that started by testing ocean water samples ended up taking a strange turn — right to the spice aisle. Turmeric, a staple in the diets of many cultures, has garnered extra attention recently due to studies touting its anti-inflammatory benefits. As more people add the spice to their diet, Morton encourages consumers to be cautious: "Buy your turmeric and other spices from trusted vendors. The research project is ongoing, and the full scope of the issue is yet to be determined."
The work started as part of CLIVAR, an international project that investigates the complex movement of ocean currents, the chemical composition of seawater and the role of the ocean in the global carbon cycle. Morton, who works at Florida State University and the National MagLab, and his collaborators began by analyzing air and seawater samples from the Indian Ocean and discovered alarmingly high levels of lead circulating around the Bay of Bengal. That clue set Morton off on a hunt to track the dangerous heavy metal across the region. His adventure as the P.I. (primary investigator) on this research inspired the P.I. (private investigator) in the science mystery below.
The researchers depicted in this comic represent hundreds of dedicated scientists and doctors around the world working to keep our spices safe. Read more about their work:
- Ground Turmeric as a Source of Lead Exposure in the United States
- Contaminated Turmeric is a Potential Source of Lead Exposure for Children in Rural Bangladesh
- Turmeric means “yellow” in Bengali: Lead Chromate Pigments Added to Turmeric Threaten Public Health Across Bangladesh
- Authentic Spices: Method for Identifying the Country of Origin