Benzene in soft drinks – Flavor of the Month?

Benzene Levels in Soft Drinks Above Limit – Yahoo! News

WASHINGTON – Cancer-causing benzene has been found in soft drinks at levels above the limit considered safe for drinking water, the Food and Drug Administration acknowledged Wednesday.
Even so, the FDA still believes there are no safety concerns about benzene in soft drinks, or sodas, said Laura Tarantino, the agency’s director of food additive safety.”We haven’t changed our view that right now, there is not a safety concern, not a public health concern,” she said. “But what we need to do is understand how benzene forms and to ensure the industry is doing everything to avoid those circumstances.”

The admission contradicted statements last week, when officials said FDA found insignificant levels of benzene.

In fact, a different study found benzene at four times the tap water limit, on average, in 19 of 24 samples of diet soda.

The formation of benzene in soft drinks is from the reaction of ascorbic acid (aka Vitamin C) and benzoate salts, notably sodium benzoate which is used as a preservative. As the FDA letter states:

We learned that elevated temperature and light can stimulate benzene formation in the presence of benzoate salts and vitamin C, while sugar and EDTA salts inhibit benzene formation.

Is this a pressing concern? First of all, exposure modeling done by the EPA indicates that 93% of all benzene exposure is through inhalation (cigarette smoke, indoor offgassing, that wonderful refueling smell!), with 7% exposure through oral ingestion. So, potentially elevated levels in this 7% fraction are not likely to greatly increase exposure. In addition, the 5 parts per billion level for drinking water is set based on an assumed daily consumption of 2 liters per day (Source – USEPA), a safety factor up from the actual estimated 0.9-1.2 L per day measured consumption. Assuming the average amount of benzene in soda (mainly diet, mind you) is 4 times that of drinking water, a 500 ml dose of diet soda per day is required to equal the dose from drinking water, which mind you, only counts for 7% of the total bezene exposure. So in a sense, a person drinking 2 servings of diet soda per day would exceed the exposure from drinking water at the federally regulated level, and knock the socks off the California standard of 0.13 ppb in water. This will increase his/her known oral exposure. The total exposure to benzene of that individual, however, would not go up significantly because the overwhelming majority of the exposure still occurs through the nose, not through the mouth.

The issue here, and benzene is just the symptom, is that consumers know much more about their drinking water than they do about their manufactured food products, and that is not good for the consumer or for the industry because in the absence of knowledge and full disclosure, both parties are vulnerable. Which is why attempts to limit consumer knowledge hurt everyone.

Conclusion Please don’t stop drinking soda because of this, I am sure you can find plenty of other reasons to limit your soda consumption… Drink lots of filtered tap water, it’s the best!! And, I can assure you that most tap water is tested thoroughly, it’s zero calories and cheap!

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