Benzene in Soft Drinks: An FDA Study Finds a Carcinogen in Popular Beverages

Benzene in Soft Drinks: An FDA Study Finds a Carcinogen in Popular Beverages

Benzene in Soft Drinks: An FDA Study Finds a Carcinogen in Popular Beverages

A U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) study shows five soft drinks with levels of cancer-causing benzene that exceed federal drinking-water standards, the Food and Drug Administration said on May 19, 2006.

The companies that make the drinks have been alerted and either have reformulated their products or plan to do so, the FDA said. Government health officials maintain there is no safety concern. Several environmental groups disagreed with that assessment.

Benzene, a chemical linked to cancers, particularly, leukemia, can form in soft drinks that contain two specific ingredients: Vitamin C (ascorbic acid), and either sodium benzoate or potassium benzoate, food preservatives. Researchers speculate that benzoates can break down in the presence of heat or light into benzene.  But the mere presence of a benzoate preservative does not mean that benzene is present.

According to news reports, the five drinks listed by the government were Safeway Select Diet Orange, Crush Pineapple, AquaCal Strawberry Flavored Water Beverage, Kraft Food's Crystal Light Sunrise Classic Orange and Giant Light Cranberry Juice Cocktail. The high levels of benzene were found in specific production lots of the drinks, the FDA was reported to have said.

  • Safeway Select Diet Orange - a sample had  79.2 ppb (parts per billion)
  • AquaCal Strawberry Flavored Water Beverage - a sample had  23.4 ppb
  • Crystal Light Sunrise Classic Orange - a sample had  87.9 ppb
  • Giant Light Cranberry Juice Cocktail - a sample had  10.7 ppb
  • Crush Pineapple - a sample had  9.2 ppb

Federal rules limit benzene levels in drinking water to 5 ppb. Kraft and Safeway have already reformulated their products to remove the benzoates. The manufacturers of  Giant Food, AquaCal and Cadbury Schweppes Americas Beverages, the maker of Crush, could not be reached for comment.

The FDA's Office of Food Additive Safety, says drinking sodas high in benzene does not pose a health risk, as the exposure is brief and small. A spokesman for Environmental Working Group ; which has accused the FDA of suppressing information about benzene in soft drinks; did have a problem with that assessment and saw the results as a problem.

"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.

The FDA plans to continue to study how benzene forms, including the role heat plays, and ways of preventing it. The agency plans to continue testing store-bought drinks as well.

A spokesman for the American Beverage Association said the report showed there was no health concern.

"But industry is working diligently to minimize the potential for the formation of benzene to the greatest extent possible. We are trying to push it down to as close as zero as we can get," spokesman Kevin Keane said.

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