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Benzene in Soft Drinks

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"Fifteen years ago," when U.S. Food and Drug Administration "scientists had found benzene, a known carcinogen, in some sodas and fruit drinks," the FDA said "'Trust us'," Terry Allen wrote March 28, 2006, in In These Times.

"The same levels in drinking water would have triggered mandatory action and public notification through newspaper, radio and TV ads. Yet the FDA neither sounded the alarm nor required the beverage industry to fix the problem," Allen wrote. "Ignoring basic chemistry, major brands left the avoidable combo in many drinks, especially those featuring fruit juice or fortified with vitamin C to lure health-conscious parents."

The Problem

"Basically, the problem is sodium benzoate and ascorbic acid, which together form benzene. The issue revolves around the levels of benzene found in soft drinks. Benzene is a known cancer-causing chemical. The FDA knew of the problem as early as 1990, but never made the findings public. Instead, the FDA came to an agreement with the US soft drinks association that the soft drink industry would reformulate the drinks. In recent months, private tests have been done, and support claims by a former chemist for Cadbury Schweppes, who, as Beverage Daily reports, is now keen to blow the whistle on the benzene levels in soft drinks and the health risks involved. This has prompted the FDA to re-open the case they closed in 1990. An unnamed FDA chemist reports recent tests do indicate a problem with benzene levels in some soft drinks," Darlene Entenmen reported inThe Cancer Blog, February 21, 2006.

Benzene, which is "used to make glues, paints and detergents" "has been linked to leukaemia and other cancers of the blood." [1]

Environmental Working Group: 2003 FDA Report

"A computer investigation by Environmental Working Group (EWG) has uncovered results from a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) testing program that contradict blanket safety assurances about benzene contamination in soft drinks made by a top agency official on March 21, 2006. FDA's data show that 79 percent of diet soda samples tested over a six-year period from 1995 through 2001 were contaminated with benzene at levels above the federal limit for benzene in tap water.

"The FDA test results, buried deep within an obscure FDA food testing program called the Total Diet Study, were posted on EWG's Web site, www.ewg.org, just days after a top FDA official assured the public that there was no threat from the presence of the toxic chemical in soft drinks." [2]

"Between 1995 and 2001, FDA tested 24 samples of diet soda for benzene in its Total Diet Study: Nineteen (79 percent) were contaminated with benzene above the federal tap water standard of 5 parts per billion (ppb). The average benzene level was 19 ppb, nearly four times the tap water standard. The maximum detection was 55 ppb, 11 times the tap water limit. Each test result is from a composite of three individual soda purchases in three different cities that are blended together to make one sample.

"No brands or manufacturers were identified in FDA's test results.

"Test results for other drinks also revealed the presence of highly elevated benzene levels. One cola drink the FDA tested was contaminated at 138 ppb, 27 times the 5 ppb tap water limit, and a fruit drink had 95 ppb. Orange and grapefruit juice also had benzene at levels well above FDA's 5 ppb level of concern." [3]

Richard Wiles, EWG's senior vice president, "noted that several states have adopted tougher standards for benzene in tap water. Tap water with benzene above 5 ppb would be illegal and would not be allowed for consumption under federal law. In fact, bottled water with greater than 5 ppb benzene could not be sold. However, diet soda with as much or more benzene is perfectly legal. New Jersey allows just 1 ppb of benzene in tap water, and California has a drinking water standard that is 33 times more protective than the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) at 0.15 ppb." [4]

Testing Positive

"The US Food and Drug Administration has acknowledged that a study found 19 of 24 samples from diet soft drinks contained cancer-causing benzene levels that were, on average, four times higher than the safe limit for drinking water," HealthDay News reported April 7, 2006. "Despite that, the agency said it was not concerned about the safety of soft drinks."

Partial List of Soft Drinks Containing Ascorbic Acid and Potassium or Sodium Benzoate

  • Country Time Lemonade
  • Crystal Light Sunrise Classic Orange
  • Diet Pepsi Twist
  • Diet Pepsi Vanilla
  • Diet Pepsi Wild Cherry
  • Diet RockStar Energy Drink
  • Fanta - Orange
  • Fanta - Pineapple
  • Fruit20 Plus 10 Natural Apple
  • Giant Fruity Punch Cooler
  • Hawaiian Punch - Fruit Juicy Red
  • Hawaiian Punch - Lemonade
  • HiC Blast - Berry Blue
  • HiC Blast - Fruit Pow
  • HiC Blast - Orange Super Nova
  • Koolaid Jammers - Blue Raspberry
  • Koolaid Jammers - Cherry
  • Koolaid Jammers - Grape
  • Koolaid Jammers - Orange
  • Koolaid Jammers 10 - Cherry
  • Koolaid Jammers 10 - Kiwi Strawberry
  • Koolaid Jammers 10 - Tropical Punch
  • Lo-Carb Monster Energy
  • Minute Maid – Tropical Citrus
  • Monster Energy
  • Mug Root Beer
  • Pepsi Twist Lemon
  • Pepsi Vanilla
  • RockStar Energy Drink
  • Sierra Mist
  • Sierra Mist Free
  • Sunkist
  • Sunny D
  • Sunny D Baja
  • Sunny D Intense Sport Cool Punch
  • Sunny D Orange-Fused Strawberry
  • Sunny D Smooth
  • Sunny D Smooth + Calcium
  • Talking Rain sparkling water - Black Raspberry
  • Talking Rain sparkling water - Harvest Peach
  • Talking Rain sparkling water - Orange Mango
  • Talking Rain sparkling water - Pink Grapefruit
  • Tampico Citrus Punch
  • Tampico Grape Punch
  • Tampico Tropical Punch
  • Tropicana Lemonade
  • Tropicana Orangeade
  • Tropicana Pink Lemonade
  • Tropicana Strawberry Melon
  • Tropicana Twister Diet Soda (Diet Orange)
  • Tropicana Twister Soda – Grape
  • Tropicana Twister Soda – Orange
  • Tropicana Twister Soda – Strawberry
  • Sources: Commercial Alert and Environmental Working Group (EWG).

Note: EWG additions to the list are based on: "On February 24 and February 27, 2006, EWG purchased the following drinks at four major retail outlets in Washington, DC. They all contained ascorbic acid and either sodium benzoate or potassium benzoate—the ingredients that the FDA and the beverage industry have said can mix together to form benzene, a known human carcinogen. The actual levels of benzene formed in these products may be at trace levels and within legal limits for drinking water. EWG has no information indicating that benzene is actually present in any of these products at any level, however, we recommend that consumers avoid any amount of benzene in drinks intended for children." [5]

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