15/02/2006 – US food safety authorities have re-opened an investigation closed 15 years ago into soft drinks contaminated with cancer-causing chemical benzene, following evidence the industry has failed to sort out the problem, BeverageDaily.com can reveal.
A chemist at the Food And Drug Administration (FDA) said testing in recent weeks had revealed some soft drinks contaminated with benzene at levels above the legal limit for water set by the US and Europe.
Benzene is listed as a poisonous chemical shown to increase the risk of leukaemia and other cancers.
The FDA was originally alerted in 1990 to the problem of benzene in soft drinks triggered by the preservative sodium benzoate. It never made the findings public, but came to an arrangement with the US soft drinks association that the industry would â€œget the word out.
But in recent months, internal documents and private tests have begun to surface, supported by claims from a former chemist for Cadbury Schweppes, who is now keen to blow the whistle on the health risk involved. He and a US lawyer commissioned new tests that have now prompted the FDA to re-open the case.
These independent tests, performed by a laboratory in New York, found benzene levels in a couple of soft drinks two-and a half-times and five times above the World Health Organisation limit for drinking water (10 parts per billion).
The FDA now confirms it has found a similar problem in its own follow-up testing. There were a few isolated products that have elevated levels. We certainly want to make sure there is some reformulation, said an FDA chemist.
The problem is caused by two common ingredients sodium benzoate and ascorbic acid (vitamin C) â€“ which can react together to cause benzene formation. It is considered completely separate from other outbreaks of benzene contamination due to faulty packaging in the 1990s.
The two ingredients are still used together in a wide range of soft drinks across the world. The FDA was first alerted to the problem in December 1990 by Cadbury Schweppes and Australian drinks group Koala Springs, according to an internal FDA memo.
This prompted FDA testing that led the US Department of Health and Human Services to report, again in an internal memo: â€œBenzene formation occurs at part per billion (ppb) levels in some food formulations containing sodium benzoate and ascorbic acid [vitamin C].
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