Nice Cold Benzene Soda, Anyone?

benzene moleculeResponding to benzene soda cases in Europe, a 2006 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) study concluded that a number of soft drinks on the U.S. market contained benzene levels higher (some 17 times higher) than permissible for drinking water.

Benzene is a known carcinogen, a common industrial chemical, and one of the primary causes of leukemia in the U.S. Benzene carries FDA’s “carcinogenic to humans” status (formerly “Class A”). What is most shocking is that FDA knew of this public threat for over a decade before it informed the public.

Benzene, the Killer Sweet

Previous FDA testing in 1990 had revealed that there were benzene risks, but it was not until it received a study from concerned citizens a decade and a half later in 2005 that FDA conducted safety tests of its own. That FDA administrators knew about benzene, one of the main cancer-causing chemicals in the U.S., was present in cans of certain Vitamin C-rich sodas but kept the public uninformed while it spoke privately with soda manufacturers, is against the values of an open, democratic society.  

From the approximate 100 sodas FDA studied in 2006, 5 drinks were found to contain up to 17 times the national standards for acceptable levels of benzene in drinking water. That national standard is 5 ppb (parts per billion), although California, New Jersey, and Florida gave stricter state levels of 1 ppb, the same standards as those for the European Union.

Unfortunately, as FDA has no regulations on the books for benzene content in liquids other than bottled drinking water, little more than a public censure and awareness campaigns could be waged.

How Benzene Got Canned

Benzoates (carbon-based crystal compounds) are preservatives added to acidic packaged food to prevent the growth of mold, yeast, and some bacteria. Benzoates can be found in such products as pickles, certain Asian condiments, and sodas.

What the FDA found last year and knew as early as 1990 is that Vitamin C (“ascorbic acid” to food scientists) can break benzoates down into, yes, you guessed it: benzene. The following 5 drinks were recorded as having benzene levels higher than the national standard of 5 ppb. This list does not contain the over 20 soft drinks with benzene levels higher than those state safety standards of 1 ppb.

Crystal Light Sunrise Classic Orange
87.9 - 76.6 ppb
Safeway Select Diet Orange
79.2 ppb
AquaCal Strawberry Flavored Water Beverage
23.4 ppb
Giant Light Cranberry Juice Cocktail
10.7 - 9.1 ppb
Crush Pineapple
9.2 ppb

And FDA Survey Says… Safe?

Concluding its 2006 benzene-soda study, FDA wrote: “These data should not be understood to be a reflection of the distribution of benzene in beverages in the US food supply. The data cover a limited number of products, a limited number of brands, and a limited geographic region.”

Yet, suspiciously, the FDA report goes on to assure the public that “the levels of benzene found in soft drinks and other beverages to date do not pose a safety concern for consumers.”

The 5 ppb benzene drinking water standard was determined by the EPA in 1987 as the determinable limit for raising a person’s lifetime chances of leukemogenesis (developing leukemia). What is left out of the equation is any other benzene exposures consumers face from car fumes (benzene is a gasoline additive), from cigarette smoke (benzene is released from burning tobacco), or from workplace exposures (benzene is a common industrial solvent).

If you believe benzene has caused your leukemia, contact the Consumer Justice Group. We have experienced attorneys ready to offer a free consultation and ready to make corporate cancer culprits pay.


  • “Data on Benzene in Soft Drinks and OtherBeverages” (2006) is the most recent report issued by FDA concerning a broad study of sodas containing potentially harmful levels of benzene. We've provided an excerpt for readers interested in knowing more about the procedures of the 2005-2006 study, which you can find by clicking the link above. The complete table of data is available here.

The Leukemia Health News is a service of the Consumer Justice Group.

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