Folk medicines for ailments such as fever and chicken pox are contributing to a high rate of lead poisoning among Hmong children, officials say.

Last year, the Southeast Asian children made up more than 60 percent of the lead poisoning cases reported to the city public health division. In the first several months of this year, eight of 13 cases were Hmong, the division said.While health officials attribute most of the cases to environmental factors, such as lead paint chips in old housing and contaminated soil, they say the Hmongs' use of medicinal powders is a factor.

Over the past six years, tests of medicinal powders used by some Hmong families found some with high levels of lead and arsenic, including one batch containing 90 percent lead, said Tim Ringhand, a public health nurse.

Despite warnings, Hmong parents continue using the medicine because they find it hard to believe their children are in danger, officials said.

"For Hmong people, it's not because they're not caring of their children," said Pam Thao, a bilingual health assistant. "The problem is they're too protecting. They don't trust outsiders."