Environmental Working Group  [Printer-friendly version]
February 28, 2006


FDA silent despite knowledge of the problem
Agency Trusted Industry to Change Formulas in 1990, Yet Still Finds
Sodas with Benzene

[Rachel's introduction: The government has known since 1990 that
vitamin C can combine with other common soft-drink ingredients to
form benzene -- a powerful industrial solvent and potent carcinogen
(see Rachel's #647). Recent studies found benzene levels in some
popular 'kids' drinks that were 2 to 4 times what's "acceptable" in
drinking water. And benzene is only one among many health problems
linked to our soda pop culture, including obesity, tooth decay,
caffeine dependence, and weakened bones.]

By Abid Aslam

WASHINGTON - February 28 - Today the Environmental Working Group (EWG)
sent a letter to the FDA requesting that the Agency notify the
public about the presence of two ingredients in many popular
children's drinks that can mix together to form the cancer-causing
chemical benzene. The FDA last addressed this problem more than 15
years ago when it entered into a voluntary agreement with the beverage
industry to reformulate its products to avoid the presence of this
hazardous mixture. It appears, based on news reports and a sampling by
EWG of popular children's drinks from retail outlets, that many
manufacturers have not complied.

In 1990, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) learned that certain
soft drinks marketed to children contain two ingredients that can mix
in the soda to form the toxic carcinogen benzene. The Agency didn't
tell the public, but instead merely asked companies to voluntarily
change their formulas to eliminate the problem.

So far in 2006, two news outlets have reported that the Agency is
again testing soft drinks, finding benzene sometimes at levels above
the safe limit for drinking water, and asking companies to change
their formulas. To date the FDA has concealed this information from
the public.

On February 24 and February 27, 2006, EWG staff found many juices and
sodas at major national retail outlets containing the ingredients that
can form benzene. The beverage industry appears to have flagrantly
ignored the 1990 agreement to eliminate chemical combinations that can
form benzene in their products and the FDA, by all accounts, has done
nothing about it.

"Benzene is a potent carcinogen that has no place in foods and drinks
targeted to children," said Richard Wiles, Sr. Vice President of
Environmental Working Group. "We urge the FDA to immediately issue a
statement telling consumers which ingredients in foods and drinks can
combine to form benzene," Wiles added.

In the meantime EWG is providing the following information to

To steer clear of chemicals in foods and drinks that can mix together
to form benzene, consumers should avoid products that contain both
ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and either sodium benzoate or potassium
benzoate. "Once again, the FDA has sided with industry and against the
public, in this case by concealing simple information that would allow
people to easily avoid benzene in the drinks they give their
children," said Wiles. "Once people have this information, we are
convinced that food and drink manufacturers will simply reformulate
their products, as many already have done, and as FDA originally
intended in 1990."

Additional Resources

A list of drinks containing ascorbic acid and either sodium benzoate
or potassium benzoate

UK, Germany testing sodas, too

FDA quietly investigating?

WJLA-TV news report