Benzene in Soft Drinks

May 20, 2006 – The Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) today announced that from a statistical sample of 89 “soft drinks'” five had benzene levels above 5 parts per billion, the limit established for drinking water. Of the remaining samples, nearly two-thirds had some detectable level of benzene. As has been well documented, industrial exposure to benzene is associated with a higher risk of developing leukemia. The soft drinks exceeding the limit of 5 parts per billion were:

  • Crush Pineapple
  • Safeway Select Diet Orange
  • Giant Light Cranberry Juice Cocktail
  • Crystal Light Sunrise Classic Orange
  • AquaCal Strawberry Flavored Water Beverage

The beverage with the highest level of benzene contamination was Safeway Select Diet Orange, recording a level as high as 79 parts per billion. All of these companies have either completed the reformulation of their soft drinks or are in the process of doing so.

The mechanism by which benzene is found in these products is a function of rheir ingredients. If a soft drink contains ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) plus either sodium benzoate or potassium benzoate, benzene will form when exposed to either heat or light.

Commenting on the FDA findings, Richard Wiles, of the Environmental Working Group, stated that, “it’s 15 years too late.” As Wiles noted, his organization has a history of pressuring the FDA to eliminate benzene from beverages since the agency found in 1990 testing that certain diet soft drinks contained benzene. At the time, the response of the FDA was to allow the industry to police itself.

While benzene consumption in soft drinks does not match the side effects of industrial exposure, consumption of benzene has a cumulative effect in combination with other environmental factors.

Benzene Exposure As A Health Risk

Benzene, a clear liquid with a sweet smell, is used in a wide range of products, including:

  • dyes
  • resins
  • rubber
  • solvents
  • plastics
  • detergents
  • synthetic fibers
  • petroleum-based products

It is classified as a Class A carcinogenic by the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and is linked to a higher risk of developing:

  • Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL)
  • Acute Myelogenous Leukaemia (AML)
  • Chronic Lymphocytic Lleukemia (CLL)
  • Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML)
  • Hairy Cell Leukemia (HCL)
  • Hodgkin’s disease
  • Myelo-Dysplastic Syndrome (MDS)
  • Multiple myeloma
  • NHL (non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma)

Individuals classified as high risk for benzene exposure work in the following industries:

  • Painting
  • Press Workers
  • Rubber Industry
  • Leather Industry
  • Printing Industry
  • Refinery Workers
  • Chemical Industry
  • Gas Station Workers
  • Gasoline Distributors