If you have a sweet tooth, you may have read studies talking about the health benefits associated with eating moderate amounts of chocolate. But our research has found a potential health risk in popular chocolate products that’s been flying under the radar – many chocolates contain toxic metals like lead and cadmium.


As You Sow has conducted independent laboratory testing of over 120 chocolate products for lead and cadmium. We found that 96 of the 127 chocolate products contain lead and/or cadmium above the safe harbor threshold of California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 (Proposition 65). Based on these results, we have filed notices with over 20 companies, including Trader Joe’s, Hershey’s, Mondelēz, Lindt, Whole Foods, Kroger, Godiva, See’s Candies, Mars, Theo Chocolate, Equal Exchange,  Ghirardelli, and Chocolove, for failing to provide the legally required warning to consumers that their chocolate products contain cadmium or lead, or both.

No level of lead is safe for children. Lead exposure has been a significant public health issue for decades. Lead is linked to a variety of neurological impairments, including learning disabilities, seizures, and a lower IQ. Developing fetuses and children are especially vulnerable to lead exposure because their brains are in critical growth and development stages.


“As underscored by the Flint disaster, humans have contaminated our environment with lead, and now we must do everything in our power to protect ourselves and our children, who are the most vulnerable of us, from every possible exposure,” said Sean Palfrey, MD,  a pediatrician and Professor of Pediatrics and Public Health at Boston University School of Medicine. “Young children and pregnant women especially should avoid exposure to lead.”

Cadmium is also known to cause reproductive harm. Cadmium can cause damage to the kidney, liver, and bones, while also impairing neurobehavioral development. Children are more susceptible than adults to exposure from low doses of cadmium over time.

California law ensures consumers receive warnings before they are harmed. To protect consumers, companies should take action to remove these toxic heavy metals from their products or, at a minimum, to provide consumers with warnings according to Proposition 65. If the heavy metals are not removed, people need to be informed so they can protect themselves and their families.

Consumers' input is important to food manufacturers. Consumers can help make a difference by making companies aware that they take this issue seriously. If your favorite manufacturer is on the warning-required list, call, tweet, or otherwise ask them to remove or reduce the heavy metals from their products. Investors should also consider potential risk if they own shares of these companies.

Chocolate List
As You Sow commissioned an independent state-certified laboratory to measure levels of lead and cadmium in over 120 chocolate products available at retailers across California. The chart below reflects testing of chocolate that was performed between 2014 and 2018. The colors of the chart indicate whether a serving of the chocolate exposes consumers to lead and/or cadmium above the Maximum Allowable Dose Level (MADL) set by the state of California under California's Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act. Donations help us test more bars.
*This refers to the Maximum Allowable Dose Level for reproductive toxins set by the state of California under California's Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act.