By Bobbie Hart O’NeillI was waiting to see my dentist in Algodones, Baja California when I noticed the “dulceria” across the dusty, unpaved street from his office and wondered how many Mexican children were being poisoned by the lead content in their favorite chili coated sweets. The following day this headline appeared in “The Arizona Republic” – ‘Arizona issues ban on harmful candies’. “Arizona officials have banned the sale of two Mexican candies that have high levels if lead in the state’s latest move to regulate potentially toxic imported treats.” Keeping the banned candies off the shelves is not easy because savvy manufacturers often rename and repackage the treats for easier importation. The toxic lead is found in the chili powder or tamarind used in the manufacture of the products. The candy becomes contaminated when (1.) Raw materials are dried in areas with high levels of airborne lead, (2.) Raw materials are stored in containers glazed with lead paint that leaches into the materials. (3.) The chilies are brought to the processing plant in large sacks, with the grower being paid according to the weight of the sack. Oftentimes the grower adds rocks and metal parts, even car batteries, to increase the bulk weight which are ground in with the chilies in the initial manufacturing process. In addition, some of the products may be sold in packaging or wrappers that contain enough lead that can seep into the candy which also poses a health hazard if the child licks the wrapper or their fingers after handling the wrapper. More than a year after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of “Chaca Chaca”, a popular chili-coated Mexican fruit bar, Arizona officials have added ‘Dulmex’s Rollito de Tamarind”, a tamarind based candy and “Vero Vagabando”, a candy lollipop dipped in chili powder to its list of Mexican candies with toxic lead levels, that can cause acute disorders in young children and pregnant women. Several western states, including Arizona, California, New Mexico and Nevada have launched bi-lingual campaigns to educate immigrant families about the treat of consuming of the toxic sweets. Authorities say it is hard to educate them as the consumers fail to understand the dangers of long-term use of the candies believing if is lead in the candy is that harmful, they would have dropped dead by now. Said one dulceria owner, “it is hard to believe that something is that harmful when a family has been eating it for years.” Even low levels of lead can cause severe neurological impairment, including brain damage and hearing loss in children age 6 or younger. Other cases of lead poisoning can be attributed to lead painted Mexican pottery and homemade remedies, bringing to mind the case of a Sacramento woman who was diagnosed with lead poisoning several years ago. She had been drinking her morning coffee from a lead painted cup she had brought back from Mexico as a souvenir. Various candy-store owners have already removed the questionable candies after new accounts of the ban were aired on Spanish language radio and TV. One dulceria customer who was shopping for “Vero Vagabando” treats for his daughter’s upcoming second birthday party said, “I’m not too worried about them because my family has been eating them for years, but I’m definitely not buying them any more, just to be on the safe side. I’m not going to play with my children’s health.” Other candies that may have high lead content include – Dulmex’s Bolrindo, Lucas Limon, Tablarindo, Serpentinas, Super Rebonaditas, Tama Toca, Paleton con Chile, Vero Rebonaditas, Pelon Pelo Rico and Vero Mango. For more information on lead poisoning in Mexican candies go to www.hs.state.az.us.