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Lead Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  • What is the health risk from eating candy with unsafe levels of lead? +

    Lead exposure is especially dangerous to children and pregnant women. In pregnant women, high levels of exposure may cause premature delivery and poor growth of the fetus. Lead poisoning can harm a child’s nervous system and brain when they are still developing, making it difficult to learn, pay attention and perform well in school. Increased lead levels have been associated with behavioral problems. Lead exposure can cause kidney damage in adults or children. Long-term exposure to lead can result in decreased performance in some tests that measure functions of the nervous system. It may also cause anemia and increases in blood pressure. It can affect fertility, delaying puberty in women and decreasing sperm production in men. Exposure to very high blood lead levels may cause seizures and death.
  • How does lead get into candy? +

    It is not entirely clear where the lead in many of the products is coming from, but products containing tamarind, chili powder or salt that is mined from certain parts of the world may have a higher likelihood of elevated levels of lead. Lead may also be introduced into the candy through improper drying, storing or grinding of the ingredients.
  • Are there types of candy that are more likely to have lead than others? +

    Candy containing tamarind, chili powder or salt that is mined from certain parts of the world may have a higher likelihood of having elevated levels of lead. Candies with elevated lead levels appear to primarily be imported from Mexico, Malaysia, China and India.
  • Why does this seem to be a problem with imported candy, rather than candy that is produced in the United States? +

    Candies produced domestically are subject to inspection by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These agencies work together to ensure that the ingredients used, and the manufacturing processes employed, produce a product that is safe and unadulterated. Other countries may not be taking this multi-step approach.
  • What is the limit for lead in candy? +

    California considers candies with lead levels in excess of 0.10 parts per million to be contaminated.
  • How does the California Department of Public Health detect lead in candy? +

    CDPH randomly selects the widest variety of candy possible for testing to ensure it is monitoring all of the various candy products sold in California. Staff looks for candies that have not previously been tested to ensure testing is as comprehensive as possible. .
  • What happens to the candy that has too much lead? What are the manufacturers/distributors supposed to do with it? +

    Candy that has been found to contain excess levels of lead is recalled by the manufacturers/distributors so that it is removed from sale and can be properly destroyed. Recalled candy is collected at the warehouse and arrangements are made with the appropriate waste disposal company to take the product to a landfill for destruction.
  • Besides eating lead-contaminated candy, are there other ways people are expose to lead? +

    Homes: Lead was routinely used in paint before 1978, so older buildings may have lead-based paint on the walls or in the dirt surrounding the structure, if the soil has been contaminated by chipping paint or previous scraping or sanding of the paint. Older homes may also have lead in the plumbing, which is released into the drinking water. Household products: Lead can also be found on products that may be used in a home, such as imported pottery and ceramics. Food/Cosmetics: In addition to candies, other food products that may contain lead are certain spices and ethnic foods, such as grasshoppers from Mexico. Traditional cosmetics, ritual substances and some home remedies may contain high levels of lead. Work or hobbies: People who work with lead (such as in battery recycling, construction and renovation, and radiator repair) may bring lead into the home on their clothes or in their cars. So can people who contact lead through certain hobbies (such as making pottery or stained glass, using lead fishing sinkers, or having contact with ammunition). Soil: Lead was routinely added to gasoline and released into the air from vehicle exhaust until the mid-1990s. This resulted in lead being deposited in dust and soil, which persists. Industrial: Some industries emit lead into the air from their factories.
  • What can I do to prevent lead poisoning and elevated blood lead levels? +

    California regulations to prevent childhood lead poisoning require that, for all children, the child’s health care provider give anticipatory guidance to prevent lead exposure at every periodic health assessment from age 6 months to 6 years. Blood lead testing is required at 12 and 24 months for children enrolled in publicly supported programs, such as Medi-Cal, Child Health and Disability Prevention, Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and Head Start. Blood lead testing is also required for other children considered at increased risk for lead exposure. Because young children often put their hands and toys in their mouths, their hands and toys should be cleaned frequently. This can prevent the transfer of lead from the environment into their mouths. In addition, maintaining a good diet high in iron, calcium and vitamin C reduces lead absorption by the child’s body.
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