Alarming levels of lead and cadmium found in Trader Joe’s, Hershey’s, and other chocolates

Is there anything that could be better than chocolate? Perhaps chocolate that doesn’t contain heavy metals might be a good start. A recent report from the California-based consumer watchdog organization As You Sow has revealed that many beloved chocolate brands are producing products that contain alarming concentrations of heavy metals such as lead and cadmium.

The 2016 report by As You Sow examined 50 different popular chocolates and found that many of them contain amounts of lead and cadmium that exceed the amounts that the state of California deems safe. Some chocolate brands contained as much as nine times the level of lead the Golden State considers to be safe to reproductive health. Others contained amounts of cadmium that were equivalent to seven times the maximum daily exposure limit.

Multiple samples from the 50 different chocolate candies were sent to an independent lab for analysis. The organization refrained from disclosing the exact amounts of lead and cadmium found in the chocolates, in hopes that they can work with the chocolate manufacturers to reduce the amounts of the metals found in their products and pinpoint the source of the toxins.

Danielle Fugere, the President of As You Sow, stated in their report, “Lead and cadmium accumulate in the body, so avoiding exposure is important, especially for children.”

“Our goal is to work with chocolate manufacturers to find ways to avoid these metals in their products,” she added.

In their report, As You Sow states that they filed legal notices against all of the chocolate companies involved for their failure to warn consumers of the lead and cadmium content in their products. The list of those manufacturers includes Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Hershey’s, Green and Black’s, Kroger, Godiva, See’s Candies, Mars, Theo Chocolate, Equal Exchange, Ghirardelli, Lindt, Earth Circle Organics, and several others.

The dangers of metals like lead and cadmium are well-documented, and as the As You Sow report notes, the Flint, MI water contamination scandal has reawakened concerns about lead and other metals in our environment.

Dangers of lead and cadmium

Like mercury, lead is among the most well-known heavy metals; most people are aware that lead is bad, but many don’t realize how much contact they may be having with this toxin, nor do they realize how bad it really is. [RELATED: Learn more about toxic substances at]

First and foremost, there is currently no amount of lead that’s been determined to be safe. As the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) explains, while small amounts of lead can be found in the Earth’s crust, most of the lead in our environment has made its way there thanks to human activity.

According the ATSDR, almost every organ system in the human body is negatively effected by lead exposure, but the main target of lead toxicity is the neurological system. Both children and adults can exhibit decreased performance in tests of the nervous system after long-term exposure to the metal, indicating that age will not protect you from the hazards of lead. Furthermore, the ATSDR notes that route of exposure does not effect lead’s toxicity; regardless of whether the metal is in the food you eat or the air you breathe, it will still be capable of grievous harm. Lead exposure can lead to brain and kidney damage, and can cause miscarriages in pregnant women. Lead is considered to be a “probable human carcinogen” by the EPA, while the USDA considers it “reasonably anticipated” to be carcinogen.

Cadmium is no better. Breathing in cadmium is known to cause lung damage, while consuming food or beverages laced with the metal has been associated with stomach irritation and diarrhea. Long-term, consuming cadmium is associated with a build-up of the metal in the kidneys and possible renal disease. Lung damage and fragile bones are other possible long-term effects of exposure to cadmium. Children in particular may be more susceptible to cadmium absorption, and may be more likely to experience bone loss and fragility due to exposure. Cadmium is also considered to be a known human carcinogen.

Should chocolate makers be compelled to put warning labels on their products if they contain these toxic metals — and should that warning extend beyond the state of California? At the very least, we should know what is in the food we purchase, especially if it’s toxic.

Sources: [PDF]

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