Mary Holman
August 8, 2012

The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) has initiated legal action against eight retailers and distributors of Asian plum and ginger candies after independent testing found dangerous levels of lead in the products. Tests found fourteen varieties of the candies, sold by major retailers and ethnic groceries, with levels of lead in excess of FDA and state limits. One of the candies had nearly 100 times more lead than the legal limit under California’s Proposition 65 consumer protection law. Scientists know of no safe level of lead exposure, especially for pregnant women and young children.

“It is especially worrisome when we find lead in candy, since consumers are ingesting the lead with every bite,” said CEH Executive Director Michael Green. “This candy may be very dangerous, particularly for children or pregnant women.”

CEH filed a lawsuit to force the companies to take immediate action to remove the candies from stores. Last month, the State of California announced a voluntary recall of one plum candy variety, but CEH has found similar problems in fourteen candies out of nineteen products tested, suggesting the problem is much more widespread. A few years ago, CEH was instrumental in exposing lead-laced candy from Mexico which was widely sold in California.

Based on the typical serving size of the candies (by the product packaging or by comparing similar products), all of them expose consumers to lead well above the legal limit under Prop 65 in a single serving; seven of the candies would expose consumers to ten times or more lead than the Prop 65 limit with a single serving. All of the candies also violated California’s lead in candy law and FDA standards, which ban candies containing more than 0.10 ppm of lead. The state lead in candy law followed legal settlements won by CEH against Mars, Hersheys, and other makers of imported candies from Mexico.

The candies were purchased at Bay Area retailers including Lucky in El Cerrito, 99 Ranch Market in Richmond, Lion in Milpitas, Marina Foods in Fremont, and San Pablo International supermarket in San Pablo, in February and June. Packaging on the products indicates the candies are imported from Hong Kong, China, and Taiwan.

Lead is a neurotoxin that can cause learning disorders, brain and nerve damage, hearing problems, stunted growth, and digestive problems. Lead can also delay puberty in women and decrease sperm production in men.

With school shopping on everyone’s list, this news comes just in time for families to avoid such products. Shoppers looking for ethnic candies should be on the lookout across California for similar products. These products are often sold in low-income areas as inexpensive alternatives to regular candy. Whether the cities of Los Angeles‘ and San Francisco‘s health departments will take action to examine products in stores remains to be seen.

Lead exposure has been linked to higher rates of infertility in women, and an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, and high blood pressure, among other health problems. A recent study concluded that lead exposure during pregnancy could have “lasting and possibly permanent effects” on a child’s IQ, and another study showed that lead exposure during the first trimester (three month period), when some women are not even aware that they are pregnant, had the most pronounced effects on a child’s mental development.


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