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Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Lead and Cadmium Found in Popular Chocolate Candies


There’s just nothing like a bar of chocolate. As a consummate and passionate chocolate lover, I am dismayed to learn that I might be ingesting lead and cadmium when I eat a chocolate bar.

The nonprofit foundation As You Sow tested 42 chocolate products for lead and cadmium, and found that 26 of them (62 percent) have lead and/or cadmium in levels that violate California’s Proposition 65 law. Under Proposition 65, companies are required to warn consumers about significant amounts of chemicals present in the products they buy. Proposition 65 also requires the state to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. Both lead and cadmium are on the list.

As You Sow filed notices of legal action with 16 manufacturers for not providing the required warnings that their chocolate products contain lead, cadmium or both. The companies include Hershey, See’s Candies, Mars and Godiva. The reason As You Sow filed the legal notices is because “consumers need to know that chocolate may contain heavy metals,” Eleanne van Vliet, As You Sow’s toxic chemical research director, said in a statement.

The potential exposure of lead from chocolate is particularly troubling when it comes to children: There is not a safe level of lead for children. Lead exposure is associated with neurological damage, including learning disabilities and lower IQ, and can occur even with low levels of exposure. Or as Sean Palfrey, M.D., said: “No amount of lead ingestion is ‘safe’ for children.” Palfrey cautions that pregnant women should also avoid “any ingestion of lead.”

Cadmium ingestion should also be avoided by pregnant women and children. Chronic cadmium exposure has been associated with kidney, liver and bone damage. Children are more susceptible to chronic low levels of cadmium exposure.

“Nobody expects heavy metals in their chocolate,” said Andrew Behar, CEO of As You Sow. “By issuing these notices, we hope to convince chocolate manufacturers to either remove or reduce heavy metals in their products through sound supply chain practices, or provide warnings so consumers can make their own choices about whether to consume the products.”

Hershey responded to the study in an email to the Washington Post and downplayed the lead and cadmium in its products, the paper reported last week. “All Hershey products meet all FDA and state standards, and our cocoa powder and chocolate are safe to eat,” stated Jeff Beckman, director of corporate communications for Hershey. “This includes the very strict Proposition 65 standards for lead and cadmium in candy and other products.” However, van Vliet said the levels are not low.

While some may argue that the contamination of chocolate from lead and cadmium is naturally occurring and comes from the soil that cocoa is grown in, a 2005 study by University of California, Santa Cruz researchers found otherwise. The researchers looked at lead concentrations in cocoa beans and found they had levels so low that they were “one of the lowest reported values for a natural food.” However, when they looked at manufactured cocoa and chocolate products, they found lead contamination levels “among the highest reported for all foods.” They concluded that the lead contamination occurred either during manufacturing or during the shipping and processing of the cocoa beans.

Clearly, chocolate manufacturers need to at least comply with California law and warn all of us chocolate lovers product ingredients. It would be even better if they found the source of the lead and cadmium contamination and took steps to stop it.

Image credit: Aka

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshotGina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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