Soft Drinks Found to Have High Levels of Cancer Chemical
Traces of a carcinogenic chemical have been found in soft drinks at
eight times the level permitted in drinking water, it was revealed
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 drinks.
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 health.
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
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
- 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 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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