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Misc. News : Featured Products Last Updated: Apr 20, 2011 - 9:38:09 AM


FDA finds cancer-causing benzene in soda drinks
By Kathy Jones
May 20, 2006 - 3:39:00 PM

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May 20, (foodconsumer.org)- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has reported that it found a high level of cancer-causing benzene in five of the 100 soft drinks and beverages that it tested. The levels of benzene were more than the recommended 5 parts per billion limit for drinking water.

The FDA said that it had alerted the companies that make the soft drinks in which benzene was over the prescribed limit. All companies had agreed to reformulate their drinks or have already done so, the FDA revealed on Friday. It maintained that there was no cause for concern although some environmental groups have expressed dismay at these findings.

The five soft drinks/beverages, which had excess levels of benzene, were
* Safeway Select Diet Orange - one lot was found to have 79.2 parts per billion of benzene
* AquaCal Strawberry Flavored Water Beverage - one lot was found to have 23.4 parts per billion
* Crystal Light Sunrise Classic Orange - one lot was found to have 87.9 parts per billion
* Giant Light Cranberry Juice Cocktail - one lot was found to have 10.7 parts per billion
* Crush Pineapple - one lot was found to have 9.2 parts per billion

The FDA maintained that the test was limited in its scope and just because some lots had turned out to have excess benzene did not mean that all lots were bad. The information with it was also limited, it said. "For example, although one sample from a production lot may contain elevated benzene levels, it does not mean that all the products from that lot will have elevated levels, or that all lots of a given product will contain elevated levels."

Laura Tarantino, MD, director of the FDAs Office of Food Additive Safety said that most of the drinks tested by the agency had very low levels of benzene, The vast majority of the products we were looking at had very, very low or not detectable levels of benzene, but there were a very few that had levels that were higher, she stressed.

Dr Tarantino added that drinking these sodas did not pose a health risk, "This is likely an occasional exposure, it's not a chronic exposure. Obviously, no benzene is something someone wants to have, but the amount of benzene you are getting in a soda is very, very small compared to what you're being exposed to every day from environmental sources," she added.

Benzene in soft drinks has become a very sensitive matter these days. The chemical id formed as a result of a reaction between Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and either sodium benzoate or potassium benzoate, which are contained in soft drinks and beverages. However the reaction does not occur as a rule, but takes place as an exception when the conditions are ideal for the reaction to take place.

Benzene is a chemical, which is linked to cancer in humans. It is released into the air from automobile emissions, burning coal and oil. Benzene is also used extensively in industries, which produce chemicals, dyes, detergents, synthetic fibers, solvents, rubber and some plastics.

Workers in chemical industry, gas stations, gasoline distribution jobs, rubber industry, printing industry and leather industry are also at a high risk since they are chronically exposed to benzene.

As such the FDA does not have a upper limit for benzene in soft drinks. Rather it follows the five parts per billion (ppb) limit set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for drinking water. The FDA's website says that benzene can cause harm at "very low levels." It adds that exposure to light can trigger the formation of benzene in the soft drinks.

The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization reacted to these findings by the FDA by saying that it is time the agency recognized the problem of high levels of cancer-causing benzene in soft drinks. "FDA's test results confirm that there is a serious problem with benzene in soda and juices," said Richard Wiles, senior vice president at Environmental Working Group.

"There is no excuse for deliberately putting chemicals that form high levels of potent cancer-causing benzene in popular drinks," Wiles added. "This is a wake-up call for the beverage industry. It is time to get benzene-forming ingredients out of sodas and juices.

The issue of benzene in soft drinks came to the attention of the FDA in the 1990s. Since then the FDA conducted a food testing program called the Total Diet Study between 1995 to 2000 according to the EWG. It tested 24 samples of diet soda for benzene in the study. Around 79 percent (nineteen) of the soft drinks were found to have benzene above the permitted levels.

Earlier this year, officials in Britain pulled some soft drinks and juices that contained benzene from the shelves. Mr Wiles feels that the FDA should do the same, "FDA should do what British food safety officials did: Disclose the test results that taxpayers have paid for. Tell consumers which products contain high levels of benzene," he said. "Tell consumers the circumstances under which benzene is more likely to be formed - such as prolonged storage under warm conditions."

Mr Wiles feels that telling the public would automatically force manufacturers to reformulate the products, "Once people have this information, we are convinced that food and drink manufacturers will simply reformulate their products, as many already have done, and as FDA originally intended in 1990."

There is no dispute on the cancer-causing potential of benzene "Benzene is carcinogenic to humans and no safe level of exposure can be recommended," the World Health Organization has maintained. Benzene causes leukemia and can also cross the placenta affecting the fetus.




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