Cancer chemical scare over soft drinks

Tens of thousands of bottles of soft drinks were removed from shop shelves yesterday after concerns that they could contain a potentially cancer-causing chemical.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA), in the UK have found levels of Benzene at nearly three times the World Health Organisation's guideline safety limits in some bottled soft drinks.

The discovery has resulted in tens of thousands of bottles of soft drinks being removed from shop shelves.

A survey of 150 soft drinks was triggered by the discovery of Benzene in soft drinks in America and the contamination was then discovered.

Although the FSA has stressed that the levels found were extremely low and would make a "negligible impact" to people's overall Benzene exposure, there is a legal limit of one part per billion on the amount of Benzene allowed in drinking water.

At present there are no UK restrictions on the amount of the chemical permitted in soft drinks.

The WHO's guideline limits of up to 10 parts per billion were exceeded in four of the drinks tested; a litre bottle of Co-op's low calorie bitter lemon with Benzene at 28ppb; a 330ml Popstar-branded still sugar free lemon and lime drink at 17ppb sold at Aldi; Morrisons own-brand two litre no added sugar pineapple and grapefruit crush at 11ppb; Silver Spring Hyberry one litre high juice, no added sugar, blackcurrant squash at 12ppb.

All the companies have removed the drinks from their shelves.

A further 22, including leading brands, were found to contain levels of Benzene greater than that allowed in tap water.

Apparently tests on one Co-Op drink showed that the levels of Benzene, which is linked with leukaemia and other forms of blood cancer, were 36 times those allowed in tap water.

Some drinks that breach the legal limit for Benzene in tap water, include some of those made by Schweppes, Robinsons, Kia-Ora, Vimto and Lilt, and are still on sale.

Food safety campaigners have demanded that all products with Benzene levels above drinking water be removed from sale until they comply with the tap water standard.

Campaigners say the industry has been aware of the problem for 15 years yet it is only now that consumers are being informed.

The FSA is calling for urgent talks with the soft drinks industry to ensure that all products meet the legal level for tap water of one part per billion.

The FSA has issued results of tests on 149 drinks including a range of fruit juice, iced tea, squash, fizzy and low-sugar drinks.

It has not checked any brand of cola apparently because this does not contain the two products that trigger the formation of Benzene in drinks.

The compound has to date only been found where drinks contain sodium benzoate E211, a preservative used widely by manufacturers to prevent growth of moulds, and ascorbic acid E300, otherwise known as vitamin C.

An absence of sugar from a drink and exposure to light and heat are also possible causes.

The FSA says the results show that it is possible to produce soft drinks without detectable traces of Benzene and this is what all manufacturers are required to do.

People need not be alarmed if they have drunk the products as it seems Benzene is in the air and most people on average breathe in 220 micrograms a day.

The British Soft Drinks Association says the test results show that the levels of Benzene that have been found are very low and that soft drinks are safe to drink.

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