Don’t assume Mexican candy is free from lead

SAN ANTONIO (Dec. 20, 2007)—Candies are never as nutritious as fruits and vegetables, it’s true, but who would suspect that a confection originating from south of the border would contain the heavy metal lead? Parents should be aware that lead can be a significant contaminant in imported candies, including a dark-brown syrup candy sold in barrel-shaped jars marked “Barrilito.”

The Texas Department of State Health Services this month found elevated lead levels in Barrilito that could cause health problems, and an importer announced a voluntary recall.

“Much has been made of recalls of toys made of lead, but consumption of this candy is more of a potential health concern because of the amount of lead ingested by unsuspecting children,” said medical toxicologist Miguel C. Fernández, M.D., director of the South Texas Poison Center at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

Lead poisoning affects an estimated 1 million American children ages 1 to 5. It is linked to kidney damage, hypertension, anemia, impaired brain development leading to poor memory and other developmental and cognitive deficits, skin problems, failure to thrive, and damage to nerves that transmit information from the brain and spinal cord throughout the body. Alarmingly, lead crosses the placenta into the womb, so expectant mothers are urged to take special caution.

“If you see a candy marked ‘Barrilito,’ don’t buy it,” Dr. Fernández said.

The South Texas Poison Center’s bilingual, confidential, 24/7 help line is 1-800-222-1222. For more information about the center, visit

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is the leading research institution in South Texas and one of the major health sciences universities in the world. With an operating budget of $576 million, the Health Science Center is the chief catalyst for the $15.3 billion biosciences and health care sector in San Antonio’s economy. The Health Science Center has had an estimated $35 billion impact on the region since inception and has expanded to six campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. More than 22,000 graduates (physicians, dentists, nurses, scientists and allied health professionals) serve in their fields, including many in Texas. Health Science Center faculty are international leaders in cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, aging, stroke prevention, kidney disease, orthopaedics, research imaging, transplant surgery, psychiatry and clinical neurosciences, pain management, genetics, nursing, allied health, dentistry and many other fields.

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