After three failed attempts to pass legislation preventing candies containing dangerous levels of lead from reaching store shelves, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed Assembly Bill 121, aimed at cleaning up candy imported from Mexico.
In his bill-signing announcement, the governor said he believes it will be difficult to implement. He's directed the state Department of Health Services to take additional steps, including adopting standards for lead more stringent than the federal Food and Drug Administration's, working on follow-up legislation, partnering with Mexican government officials and providing more bilingual education on the matter.
The candies, containing chili and tamarind, are found mainly in Latino neighborhood stores.
Leticia Ayala, director of the San Diego Environmental Health Coalition's Campaign to Eliminate Childhood Lead Poisoning, is optimistic about the bill's effectiveness and sees it as a culmination of four years' worth of effort.
"It's going to take a lot of cooperation from the candy manufacturers," she said, "but the message that is being sent is that manufactures have to make the changes within their own facilities if they want to continue to profit."
The bill, introduced by Assemblyman Juan Vargas, is a departure from past voluntary recalls, something Ayala deems reprehensible when it comes to a snack foods known to harm children.
Orange County Register reporters last year discovered that it wasn't uncommon for metal, dirt and other debris to be mixed in with chilies being ground into powder, especially since they are sold by weight. Acidic tamarind bonds with lead in ink used to make wrappers. Less-expensive soy wrappers are a common alternative, Ayala said.
The bill calls for those who've worked in childhood lead prevention, including Ayala, to form a collaborative that comprises the state Attorney General's Office and the Department of Health Services, among others, in order to determine what candies need to be tested.
The Environmental Health Coalition already has a list of 112 candies it believes to be dangerous.