SANTA ANA, Calif. (April 25) - More than 100 brands of candy sold in California, most of them from Mexico, have tested positive for dangerous levels of lead in the past decade and little has been done about it, a newspaper reported.
In nearly every case, the candy - mostly marketed to Latino kids - stayed on store shelves and no action was taken against the Mexican manufacturers, the Orange County Register reported in Sunday's editions, citing state and federal records.
The public was rarely informed of test results, the newspaper found.
"Children are eating poison," said Leticia Ayala, of San Diego-based Environmental Health Coalition, a nonprofit group that urged the state to better regulate Mexican candies.
State officials said they lack the resources to tackle the problem and have little jurisdiction over Mexican candy manufacturers.
"We have a lot more responsibilities than looking for lead in candy," said Jim Waddell, chief of the state Health Department's Food and Drug Branch.
Lead poisoning can cause brain and nerve damage and result in intelligence and behavioral problems, particularly in children. Concerns about lead poisoning led to a ban on lead-based house paint in the 1970s and on lead compounds in gasoline in the 1980s.
The state Department of Health Services has conducted more than 1,500 tests on Mexican candy since 1993 and found high levels of lead in one of every four samples, the newspaper reported.
As many as 15 percent of California children who suffer lead poisoning - about 3,000 over the past three years - have eaten Mexican candy, according to state statistics. About three-quarters of them are Hispanic.
The government did little to release the information to the public, the paper said.
For example, it knew of high lead levels for years in Chaca Chaca, a popular Mexican treat made from apple pulp and chili powder, but no public warnings were issued until last month.
The Register conducted its own tests on 180 samples purchased over the counter in Southern California, an 32 percent of the tests showed high levels of lead.
The newspaper sent reporters to Mexico, and reported that raw ingredients were carelessly tainted with lead before being shipped to factories, where unsafe manufacturing procedures were commonplace.
Mexican manufacturers said they had no knowledge their candies contained dangerous levels of lead until contacted by the newspaper.