Problem: California health groups and regulators have long found high levels of lead in many types of candies imported from Mexico. According to a 2004 investigation by the Orange County Register, chilis, tamarind and other candy ingredients are dried outdoors in Mexico, where lead from gasoline and lead from factory emissions can deposit on the drying foods, resulting in high lead levels in candies. Glazes on pottery used by smaller candy producers may also contribute to the lead hazard. Also, some inks used on candy wrappers have been found to contain lead, resulting in contamination of the product.

CEH Action: In 2004, CEH began investigating high levels of lead in imported candies. That year, we joined the San Diego-based Environmental Health Coalition (EHC), along with the California Attorney General and other local officials in filing a lawsuit against more than thirty candy makers for leaded candies that violate state law.

Solution: In 2006, CEH and our allies reached a landmark legal agreement to ban lead in candy with the leading importers of Mexican candies, including Mars and Hershey’s. The agreement also required the companies to establish a fund to help smaller companies adopt practices and obtain access to equipment needed to eliminate lead hazards in their candies. Our legal settlement formed the basis of a 2005 California law to ban the sale of lead-tainted candies.

CEH has been monitoring for violations to the state candy law, particularly in Latino communities in the Bay Area. In each neighborhood, we work with local community-based organizations who have on-the-ground knowledge of the vendors in the community.

What You Can Do: Parents can get information about lead in candy (in English and Spanish) from the Environmental Health Coalition. The California Department of Health also has online information about lead candy risks, including an updated list of recently recalled products.