The state of California and the city of Los Angeles sued drinks giant Coca-Cola Co on Tuesday claiming Coke made in Mexico contains lead.
The lawsuit claims that elevated levels of lead have been detected in the paint used to decorate the outside of glass Coca-Cola bottles, as well as in the fizzy drink itself.
"The contents of the bottles of Mexican Coke also frequently contain elevated lead levels, which is likely due to the lead in the paint decorations contaminating the beverage during processing at the Mexican facilities where the soft drinks are manufactured and bottled," the lawsuit claims.
The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court by California attorney general Bill Lockyer and Los Angeles city attorney Rocky Delgadillo.
"Millions of bottles of this product have been handled and consumed by Californians over the past four years without any warning of the danger they pose," the court papers said.
Coca-Cola said in a statement that it would "vigorously defend itself" against the "outlandish allegations."
"All Coca-Cola beverages, including those made in Mexico, are safe and comply with all laws," said Ray Steed, a Coca-Cola vice president of quality and technical services.
The suit alleges that Mexican-bottled Coca-Cola is sold in large volumes in California and that company officials knew that consumers were being exposed to unsafe levels of lead from it.
The Mexican-bottled version of the leading soft drink is sweeter than its US counterpart, and is imported to feed demand from the huge Mexican population in California, the suit says.
Atlanta-based Coca-Cola said it is taking steps to settle the lawsuit.
The suit is similar to one against PepsiCo Inc that was settled last month when the company agreed to stop using labels containing lead-based ink on its bottles sold in Mexico.
It requires the company to pay a US$1 million civil penalty and another US$4.25 million if it doesn't meet a seven-year phase-out target.
That suit was also filed under Proposition 65.