Benzene in soda: update

We've covered the FDA failure leading to their overlooking benzene in soda pretty often (at least if pretty often means here, here, here, here, here, here and here). It's like the guy who went to the doctor complaining of pain in his belly. "Ever have it before?" the doctor asked. "Yes, twice" the patient said. "Well, you have it again."

In this installment we learn that the benzene, a known human carcinogen, doesn't really have to be there. Recall how it got there. Two preservatives commonly added to soft drinks, ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) and sodium benzoate, react to produce the benzene while in storage. The warmer and older the soda the more benzene. The FDA and soda makers have known about the problem since 1990 but the FDA assumed that the soda folks would "get the word out" and solve the problem. The word that got out, apparently, was "mum," as in "mum's the word about benzene." So the public drank soft drinks with a human carcinogen in it at levels that sometimes far exceeded the health standard. The drinking water standard that is. That's regulated by EPA. Soda is a food, so it's regulated by FDA. Apparently when benzene is drunk in the form of soda you don't need a standard.

Not all sodas had benzene it them. In fact there was tremendous variation. That meant that something could be done about it and a class action lawsuit was settled against the biggest companies requiring them to reformulate their products to bring benzene levels down. Now a study of one of the worst offenders, Crystal Light Sunrise Classic Orange (CLSCO), has shown that reformulation can dramatically reduce the levels. CLSCO had benzene levels as high as 90 parts per billion. The drinking water standard is 5 ppb. They hired an industry friendly consulting company, ChemRisk, to analyze 28 off the shelf samples of their product before and after reformulation. They went from 90 down to 4 ppb in 1 liter bottles and below 1 ppb in 16 oz. bottles.

OK. We know it can be done. Now what about the other products out there? Not all manufacturers were party to the lawsuits.
Ascorbic acid and benzoate salts are still used in many drinks that are sold worldwide. The exposed population is huge, probably in the billions. Even if the risk is very small, say one in a million per year, that's a thousand people getting cancer a year from drinking soda. Meanwhile the FDA still does not have a health standard for benzene in soft drinks.

We're making progress. Very, very slowly.

More like this

If the offending benzene is a function of storage time and conditions do we know if the CLSCO tests was performed on pre and post reformulation drinks that had been stored under identical conditions and were the same age since bottling? i.e. they did not get some old, about to reach its shelf life - kept in a warm store room, bottle and compare it to a newly minted stored at absolute zero bottle. Just asking, call me jaded but I am coming to the conclusion it is not always safe to assume even rudimentary scientific method.

I stupidly did not twig there was a link - which I have now looked at - but did not answer my question. However this little bit of math does not inspire too much confidence.
"500 mL (16 oz) original and new formulation bottles and one litre (64 oz) bottles."
They did not stick to a common bottle size, they can not double 16 and they are not clear on the international recognised abbreviation for millilitres but apart from those few minor issues with the half sentence quoted I am sure the rest of the article (and research) will be text book.

JJ: The news article in the trade publication implies they were subjected to heat to maximize the benzene formation. Cancer risk analyses were also done and they were on the order of 1 in a million or more in the reformulated product, hence my calculation.

We don't drink much soda anymore but I used to guzzle Pepsi or 7up several years ago.

On occasion I purchase an organic Italian Spritzer. The ingredients in the latest are: carbonated water, organic sugar, organic pomegranate and blueberry juice from concentrate, citric acid, natural pomegranate flavor, natural blueberry flavor, black carrot juice (for color).
And it's bottled in glass.

With that said, lemonade (lemons) are a wonderful tonic for the blood and with warmer temperatures approaching perhaps readers here will indulge themselves.

Subject them to heat? Shit, ever been on a loading dock in Memphis in the summertime? Its generally a tin attachment to the main building with no a/c. If heat really cranks this up then it explains why they tell them to dump the sodas after three months... Look at the dates on them. 98 to 101 is about the average unless it really gets hot...

I would say they are aware of the problem Revere......

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 29 Apr 2008 #permalink

Question about BPA and soda cans. I've heard conflicting reports that soda cans (e.g., Coke, Pepsi, Diet Coke, etc.) may (or may not) be lined with BPA. Does anyone know for sure?

By Erika Froh (not verified) on 02 May 2008 #permalink

Erika: Here's what Coca Cola Canada says:

Whether you believe them specifically about Coke or not, it is known that the BPA from cans is usually much less than BPA from plastic bottles. Maybe others have more info.

I have been monitoring updates on chemical substances added to manufactured foods and I admire you,Revere, for providing me information especially the presence of benzene in softdrinks. Revere , may I know your professional background pleAse? I am asking because you are knowledgeable enough and what you are doing deserve praise for I know only few people are doing what you did. Maybe we have the same inclination and I thought of submitting suggestions to the Philippine senate through the congressmen for a bill to scrutinize the chemical components of all manufactured food, herbal and other chemical products consumed by the public like shampoo, toothpaste, cosmetics, etc. seeing to it that before allowing any manufacturer to produce and have them marketed , the Philippine BFAD or all Food and Drug Administration offices in all countries throughout the world should require the producer to follow product labelling requirements after which the BFAD should test not only the listed components in the label but also other tests of product components which maybe are carcinogenic, mutagenic and teratogenic. This way, the ill effects of the products could not endanger the public since before BFAD permit is granted, tests are completely done as preventive measures for protecting the health of the public. Prevention is less costly than treatment and less effect of having abnormal and sickly people which may greatly affect the economic crisis in the country.
If our BFAD is capable of testing the presence of melamine in milk and formaldehyde in candies, why not doing the same process as preventive measures? This preventive process must be done to all products made in the Philippines and products entering the country. In addition and for more accurate and reliable results, BFAD people should be manned with chemists, pharmacists,medical technologists and medical doctors to conduct research on the submitted products intended for mass production. The safety of the health of the public then lies on the hands of the professionally qualified BFAD personnel. As to the budget for research, it must be charged to the manufacturer who submitted their products for testing and BFAD permit shall only be issued if the tested product will be found to be safe for human consumption/ use. Another function of the BFAD personnel is to monitor and bring to court all illegal producers of any products especially those producers of counterfeit drugs , food products and other products consumed by the public

By Dr. Anelda S. Kiamco (not verified) on 10 Nov 2008 #permalink