A government analysis of more than 100 soft
drinks and other beverages turned up five
with levels of cancer-causing benzene that
exceed federal drinking-water standards, the
Food and Drug Administration
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, an opinion not shared by at least
one environmental group.
The five drinks listed by the government
were Safeway Select Diet Orange, Crush Pineapple,
AquaCal Strawberry Flavored Water Beverage,
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 said.
Benzene, a chemical linked to leukemia, can
form in soft drinks containing two ingredients:
Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, and
either of the two preservatives: sodium benzoate
and potassium benzoate.
The presence of those ingredients doesn't
mean benzene is present. Scientists say factors
such as heat or light exposure can trigger
a reaction that forms benzene in the beverages.
Federal rules limit benzene levels in drinking
water to 5 parts per billion. A limited FDA
analysis of store-bought drinks found benzene
levels as high as 79 parts per billion in
one lot of Safeway Select Diet Orange.
A Safeway Inc. spokeswoman did not immediately
return a message left seeking comment.
Dr. Laura Tarantino, director of the FDA's
Office of Food Additive Safety, said drinking
sodas high in benzene does not pose a health
"This is likely an occasional exposure, it's
not a chronic exposure. Obviously, no benzene
is something someone wants to have, but the
amount of benzene you are getting in a soda
is very, very small compared to what you're
being exposed to every day from environmental
sources," Tarantino said.
However, a spokesman for Environmental Working
Group which has accused the FDA of
suppressing information about benzene in soft
drinks 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.