Taking a break from this blog's voting theme, I wanted to raise awareness of a big sleeper of a health issue.
A carcinogenic compound known as benzene can form in drinks that contain ascorbic acid and either sodium benzoate or potassium benzoate.
Guess what: a lot of soft drinks contain both of those ingredients.
Benzene is one of the most carcinogenic compounds around. If benzene levels in public drinking water exceed 5 parts per billion (ppb) the press must be notified and public warnings must be broadcast.
Most soft drinks have levels below 5 ppb, but a few of them test much higher than that. And when they do test higher, their consumers don't get notified at all.
The FDA and various soft drink companies have known about this for about 16 years. The FDA chose to let the drink manufacturers police themselves. A few manufacturers reformulated their drinks to prevent benzene from forming, but most of them did little or nothing.
As a recent Canadian study showed, testing by the drink manufacturers in controlled factory conditions seems to produce much different results than testing on randomly selected drinks from store shelves.
It seems that the amount of benzene formed depends a lot on whether that batch of soda was affected by heat or light during transportation or storage. So even though they say that standard Coca Cola has less than 2 ppm of benzene in it, if you take a plastic liter bottle of Coke and put it in the sun for a while, all bets are off.
So basically, the only safe bet is to "avoid or limit the consumption of products that contain both ascorbic acid and sodium/potassium benzoate."
A recent FDA report said that there's "not enough data" to understand whether benzene in soda is really a threat. Of course that lets them and the food corporations delay taking any action for a while longer.
Nice of the FDA to sit on this for so long, giving us 16 extra years of
drinking refreshing benzene, eh?
For more information about the perils of benzene in your soda, the Accidental Hedonist blog did a great article on the topic earlier this year.
That article cited an editorial by Dr. Ruth Kava of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) that claims that fears of benzene in soft drinks are overblown. However a quick look at the other articles on the ACSH site reveal Dr. Kava's unspoken agenda. Other headlines on the site today included "DDT Use is Long Overdue" and "Threat of Low-Level Radiation Often Exaggerated." Every article brands some health concern as overblown, or some environmental progam as a waste of taxpayers' money. Dr. Kava and her organization seem to be trying to sow confusion and to prevent a consensus from forming on this issue.
The plain fact is, if benzene is bad for us, and if it doesn't need to be in our food and drink, it should be removed. Now.