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Hershey's sued after study found lead and other heavy metals in its dark chocolate

New study says some varieties of dark chocolate contain potentially hazardous heavy metals
New study says some varieties of dark chocolate contain potentially hazardous heavy metals 02:19

Hershey's misled buyers of its dark chocolate by not disclosing the products contain lead and another potentially harmful chemical, according to a lawsuit filed against the candy maker. 

Nassau County, New York, resident Christopher Lazazzaro said he would not have bought dark chocolate products sold by Hershey had it revealed the bars contains lead and cadmium, according to the suit filed Wednesday in federal court in Central Islip, New York.

Lazazzaro relied on the company's presentation of its candy bars as containing only dark chocolate ingredients and as safe for consumption, according to the legal filing. Instead, he purchased and paid more than he would have had he known "the truth about the products," the suit states. 

The proposed class action comes two weeks after Consumer Reports published research showing potentially dangerous levels of heavy metals in multiple brands of dark chocolate, including Hershey's, Godiva, Lindt, Trader Joe's and Scharffen Berger.

Heavy metals in 28 popular brands

Scientists at the nonprofit advocacy organization recently measured the amount of heavy metals in 28 popular brands of dark chocolate bars and found cadmium and lead in all of them. For 23 of the bars, consuming just an ounce a day would put an adult over a level for at least one of the metals that could be harmful, CR said. Five of the bars were above those levels for both cadmium and lead.

Long-term exposure to even small amounts of heavy metals can lead to a slew of health issues, including developmental problems and brain development in young children, experts say.

Conversely, dark chocolate has long been viewed as a healthier option than milk chocolate and other treats, with studies finding it  contains antioxidants that might help prevent heart disease. 

Children's clothes from popular retailers recalled over lead poisoning risk 00:19

In determining the risks for the chocolate it tested, CR used California's maximum allowable dose level of 0.5 micrograms for lead and 4.1 micrograms for cadmium, as there are no federal limits. 

CR found that an ounce of Hershey's Special Dark Mildly Sweet Chocolate contained lead 265% above what California allows. The company's Lily's Extra Dark Chocolate 70% Cocoa product had lead 144% above the allowable level, and Lily's Extreme Dark Chocolate 85% Cocoa product contained lead and cadmium that were 143% and 101%, respectively, above the state's limit, the consumer group concluded.

A spokesperson for Hershey's did not immediately respond to a request for comment to the suit. The company previously deferred to the National Confectioners Association (NCA) for comment about CR's findings. In a statement earlier this month, the trade group objected to CR's use of heavy metal levels set by California, noting that the state does not set federal food safety standards.

"The products cited in this study are in compliance with strict quality and safety requirements," an NCA spokesperson said in an email to CBS MoneyWatch. "Food safety and product quality remain our highest priorities and we remain dedicated to being transparent and socially responsible."

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