Candy and lead poisoning

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: October 25th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Efforts have been made to reduce children’s exposure to lead in the United States such as the 1978 ban on the substance in house paint, the phase-out of leaded gasoline and the removal of lead solder [sodder] in food cans. But new concern has developed over high levels of the heavy metal in an unexpected source… kids’ candy.

Dangerous lead levels have been detected in over one-hundred brands of sweets produced in Mexico and sold in the U-S. Salt, contaminated chili powder and tamarind are the culprits in many of these spicy treats. Lead gets into these ingredients from improper drying, storing and grinding. It has also been found in the paints decorating small ceramic containers and wrapper inks that package the candy.

Lead is more dangerous for children than adults because their digestive tracts and brains absorb much more of it. Lead poisoning can lead to serious neurological damage, causing learning and behavioral problems. It also interferes with bone growth, as lead takes over areas where calcium should be deposited. Pregnant women need to be cautious, too, because high lead exposure can cause birth defects and miscarriages.

While some children exposed to lead may have mild symptoms, including headache, irritability or abdominal pain, others may have none at all. Health-care providers can measure blood lead levels to test exposure.

Until the lead content of these candies is reduced, the U-S Food and Drug Administration advises that children and pregnant women not eat candy imported from Mexico at this time.