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Benzene ~ Soft drinks found to have high levels of cancer chemical

Posted by Tara Burner 0 comments

By Rajeev Syal
March 02, 2006


TRACES of a carcinogenic chemical have been found in soft drinks at
eight times the level permitted in drinking water, it was revealed
last night.

Tests conducted on 230 drinks on sale in Britain and France have
identified high levels of benzene, a compound known to cause cancer,
according to the Food Standards Agency. There is a legal limit of one
part per billion of benzene in British drinking water. The latest
tests revealed levels of up to eight parts per billion in some soft

Benzene has been linked to leukaemia and other cancers of the blood.
Traces found in Perrier water 15 years ago led to the withdrawal of
more than 160 million bottles worldwide. The disclosure has prompted
food safety campaigners to demand that the Government reveal which
products contain benzene. At present, the drinks’ identities have not
been revealed.

Richard Watts, of Sustain, a pressure group lobbying for better food
standards, said that this should be done urgently because the drinks
were being marketed to children. “The scientific evidence is unclear
about whether there is any safe level of benzene. We see no reason
why it should be different from the designated safe level in drinking
water. If it is unsafe in drinking water, why should it be safe in
soft drinks?” he said.

The Food Standards Agency, the government watchdog, said that the
products did not pose an immediate health risk, but called for
further investigation from the British drinks industry. “Let’s have
further investigations and regular discussions with the drinks
industry to check what is happening. If levels are high then the FSA
will take action to protect consumers,” an agency spokesman said.

Food scientists believe that high levels of benzene may have been
produced by the reaction of two commonly used ingredients — sodium
benzoate, a preservative, and ascorbic acid (vitamin C). Sodium
benzoate is widely used in the drinks sector. In Britain, it is used
in Britvic brands including Britvic 55 apple and orange flavours,
Pennine Spring flavoured waters and Shandy Bass.It is not known if
any of these products were included in the latest tests. A spokesman
for Britvic has previously expressed confidence in its products.

A spokesman for the British Soft Drinks Association said yesterday
that the industry was working to reduce the levels of benzene in soft
drinks. “There is an obligation on the industry to have as low a
level of benzene as possible and we are looking at ways of reducing
the levels — and maybe even removing the preservative — if we can
replace it with something else,” he said.

When minuscule traces of benzene were discovered in Perrier water 15
years ago, it forced the French company to withdraw millions of

Tests have been carried out in Europe after US food watchdogs found
benzene in juices and sodas. The Food and Drug Administration
registered its concern about the possible long-term effects on

Professor Glenn Lawrence, of Long Island University, who first
conducted tests for benzene in soft drinks 13 years ago, said that
the combination of sodium benzoate and vitamin C was commonly used in
drinks in the early 1990s.

He said that drinks firms were now putting vitamin C back into drinks
to encourage consumers to buy the product. He said that this was
being done to encourage parents to buy the drinks to improve their
children’s health but it might just be doing the opposite.


# Michael Faraday discovered benzene in 1825 when he isolated it from
oil gas to form a chemical, six parts carbon, six parts hydrogen

# It is produced during incomplete combustion of carbon-rich
substances: it is produced from petrochemicals, but occurs naturally
in volcanoes, forest fires and in cigarette MigVapor smoke

# In the 19th and early 20th centuries it was used in aftershave, for
its pleasant smell, and to decaffinate coffee. It is now used as an
anti-knock agent in petrol

# It is an aggressive carcinogen and may lead to leukaemia and other
cancers of the blood

# In 1993, Professor Glenn Lawrence, of Long Island University,
published research showing that the sodium benzoate and vitamin C
found in soft drinks could react to form benzene. He suggested that
drink companies were putting vitamin C into drinks to encourage
customers to buy them

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