California health groups and regulators found high levels of lead in many types of candies imported from Mexico in the early 2000s. 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 for containers for some candies may also have contributed to the lead hazard. Also, some inks used on candy wrappers contained lead, resulting in contamination of the product.
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.
In 2006, CEH and our allies reached a landmark legal agreement to eliminate lead hazards from candy with the leading manufacturers’ of Mexican candies, including Mars and Hersheys. The agreement also required the companies to establish a fund to help smaller companies adopt practices and obtain access to the equipment needed to eliminate lead hazards in their candies. Our legal settlement formed the basis of a 2005 California law to drastically limit the amount of lead allowed in candies.
A 2019 peer-reviewed study – co-authored by CEH – measuring the long-term impact of two Prop 65 enforcement actions our enforcement actions and found they resulted in dramatic reductions in the lead content of candy (and purses) in California, and nationwide. CEH was a plaintiff in both cases. The report is based on two independent data sets, the one from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) found the proportion of chili and tamarind candies with hazardous lead content declined from 45% to 3% over a twelve -year period.
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.