Coca-Cola Sued, Others Settle Cases Over Cancer-Causing Benzene
WASHINGTON - Coca-Cola Co. was sued Friday as part of an effort to
force soft drink makers to eliminate ingredients in their products
that can form cancer-causing benzene.
The complaint against the soft drink giant came as two smaller companies
settled a lawsuit over benzene, which is linked to leukemia.
"I think if they understand that consumers, and perhaps courts, expect
them to eliminate this problem, they will," said Boston lawyer Andrew
Rainer, who represents the parents.
A Coca-Cola spokesman said the lawsuit is not about consumer safety
but about lining lawyers' pockets.
The Food and Drug Administration "has closely reviewed beverages for
the presence of benzene in soft drinks several times in the past and
each time has found no public health issue," said Coke spokesman Ray
Similar lawsuits are pending in federal court in Kansas, Massachusetts
and New Jersey and in state court in Florida and California.
Plaintiffs added Coke's Vault Zero energy drink to the Kansas lawsuit,
which also targets PepsiCo Inc.'s Diet Wild Cherry and Kraft Food
Inc.'s Crystal Light Sunrise Classic Orange.
Benzene can form in soft drinks containing vitamin C, also called
ascorbic acid, and either sodium benzoate or potassium benzoate. Scientists
say factors such as heat or light exposure can trigger a reaction
that forms benzene in the beverages.
According to the suits, independent laboratory tests found benzene
in the drinks at levels above the federal limit for benzene in drinking
The Food and Drug Administration found similar results on unidentified
brands in sampling from 1995 through 2001 and said it would do more
The companies that settled, Atlanta-based In Zone Brands Inc., maker
of BellyWashers, and Preston, Wash.-based TalkingRain Beverage Co.,
denied that their products caused any harm. But they agreed to change
their ingredients in April and May, after the suit was filed. They
also agreed to refund or replace drinks made before the switch in
District of Columbia Superior Court judge Mary Terrell dismissed that
case Friday morning.
BellyWashers are juice drinks that come in reusable bottles featuring
Spiderman, Hello Kitty, Scooby Doo and other well-known characters.
Crockett, the Coke spokesman, said Vault Zero is safe.
"There is no supporting documentation to prove how these lawyers conducted
these tests," he said. "Their own press release indicates that they
have abused the product with heat prior to testing.
FDA officials say there is no safety concern and that levels are still
relatively low compared with other sources of exposure to benzene.
The soft drink industry agrees and says the amount of soft drinks
people consume is much less than the amount of tap water they are
As part of the settlement, the smaller companies agreed to pay $35,000
each. Rainer said most of the money will pay legal costs.
Meanwhile, a court in the southern Indian state of Kerala temporarily
upheld a ban on production by the Indian subsidiaries of Coke, Pepsi
and other soft drinks after an environmental group said their products
contained high levels of pesticides. The companies have challenged
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