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Editorial About Benzene in Your Coke and Other Soft Drinks

EHSO's Environmental & Safety Editorials

A free source of honest environmental information for
environmental health and safety professionals
and the general public

Benzene in your soft drinks? Media hype? What's the real issue?

It was May 2006 and the story on the news is that the FDA has detected the presence of benzene in 5 brands of soda, up to 80 parts per billion (ppb). What is most interesting is not that benzene in tiny amounts was detected; but rather how it was produced. As usual, the mass media and protest groups focus on the easy alarmist aspects, while missing the bigger picture. Tell everyone that there is benzene in their soft drinks and you'll get a lot of attention.

There are really 3 key points in this store:

  1. benzene was detected about the recommended levels in soft drinks - that IS important.
  2. the concentration of benzene is very, very low; far lower that the amount of exposure that many people receive while filling their car with gasoline (benzene is commonly found in gasoline) and other sources of exposure.
  3. the benzene in soft drinks appears to be a breakdown by product when the soft drinks are stored improperly (exposed to excessive heat and light).

While the media reported the first point, they have neglected the other two and the follow-up questions they should be asking: Is 80 ppb significant? How many cans would you need to drink to see any increase in cancer or leukemia? What about benzene that is present in much, much higher concentrations in other products, like gasoline? Are we adequately protected from these sources?

And why is the benzene being produced? Are soft drink distributors and transporters leaving the soda cans in 100 degree hot warehouses or sitting out in the sun for extended periods? Does any government agency inspect for this? And if the cans are being improperly stored with regard to heat and light, what about sanitation? If there are rats or mice in the warehouses, and these are climbing on the cans, urinating and defecating on them, they are leaving being feces, urine and hanta virus. I hope you wash the can off before you pop the top and press your lips against it.

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