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October 30, 2005 - Lead Level of Chocolate Studied

A study published in this month's Environmental Health Perspectives suggests lead levels in imported chocolate are not due to contaminants in leaded gasoline.  Until the study, conventional thinking tied lead levels in the chocolate to leaded gasonline emissions that seeped into cocoa beans. A team of American and Nigerian researchers, however, found that lead levels in raw cocoa beans were 60 times lower than lead levels observed in processed chocolate products.Documented lead content in candy has ranged from a mean concentration of 21 nanograms per gram in milk chocolate bars in an Australian study to an average of 1,920 ng/g in chocolates in India. Not to say chocolate is the only food containing lead. U.S. lead concentration for apples is 20 ng/g, 200 ng/g for dry table wine and 100 ng/g for canned pineapple, according to the study.

"The logical step you can take from here is that most of the contamination isn't coming from the producer," explained Charley Rankin, the paper's lead author and a toxicology researcher at the University of California at Santa Cruz. "It's either coming from the shipping or the manufacturing process."

Regardless of the source of contamination, "there is no excuse for a product that is about to be consumed by children to contain lead, period," said Dr. John Rosen, a pediatrician and lead program director at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.

Lead imbalances in children can lead to a host of permanent developmental deficits.  If overexposed to lead, the child's ability to think, plan, organize, and memorize may be inhibited.  Lower levels of lead result in intellectual deficits that stay with the child throughout his or her life.

"If it was up to me, it would be no chocolate," Rosen proffered. "It's better to be safe than sorry."

Dark chocolate and hot cocoa are often lauded for their high antioxidant value, but these goodies also harbor higher levels of lead. The more raw cocoa there is in the mix, the more lead there is in the final product.

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