The Hits Just Keep On Coming With Soft Drinks

The FDA has acknowledged that benzene, a carcinogen, has been found in U.S. soft drinks at four times the limit considered safe for drinking water. This contradicts earlier FDA statements that the levels of benzene were insignificant. Organizations such as the Environmental Working Group have accused the FDA of concealing information about benzene in soft drinks.

Benzene has been linked to leukemia. It can form in soft drinks made with vitamin C and sodium or potassium benzoate. America’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stated that its tests for benzene in drinks over the last 15 years may be faulty. Current FDA tests for benzene involved heating up the beverage, a process likely to increase benzene formation in the drink during testing and, therefore, risk unrealistic results.

Recent FDA testing has found some soft drinks containing benzene, a known carcinogen, above the maximum level allowed in US drinking water. The suspected source is two common ingredients, sodium benzoate and ascorbic acid (vitamin C), in the drinks. The FDA and soft drinks industry have known for 15 that these two ingredients could react to form benzene in drinks, as well as that exposing such a drink to heat could significantly raise benzene levels.

An independent scientist, whose method has been contracted US government’s Office of Dietary Supplements to help it examine benzene formation in liquid supplements and vitamin drinks that also contain sodium benzoate, stated that it took him ten minutes to realize the problem with the FDA testing method. This could also help soft drinks firms, and producers of other liquid foods or supplements containing the two ingredients, to examine their own products.

The flaw identified in FDA testing for benzene does not, however, mean the agency and soft drinks firms are out of the woods. It was unclear why the FDA had apparently not altered its testing method for benzene in the 15 years since it first made the link between benzene and the sodium benzoate-ascorbic acid combination in 1990.

The FDA has repeatedly said that none of the benzene levels it had found in drinks so far were considered a health risk for consumers. The continuing presence of the issue 15 years after it was discovered, however, suggests a communication breakdown. Soft drinks firms pledged in 1990 to “get the word out and reformulate”.

The effect of heat on benzene formation should not be discounted. Testing on soft drinks 15 years ago is thought to have found that temperatures of 30 degrees C and exposure to UV light for several hours were enough to more than triple benzene residues in some drinks. It is essential for authorities and companies to test for benzene in soft drinks exposed to a range of different storage and transport conditions.

The stakes are high following recalls of drinks in the UK, and a launch of the first lawsuits against soft drinks firms over benzene in drinks. The American Beverage Association said reformulation did take place, but that some brands may not be aware of the potential for sodium benzoate and ascorbic acid to form benzene.

I hope that you take this info to heart and choose nice, clean, pure water the next time you think about a “soft drink”.