Quality tests conducted on soft drinks, on sale in Britain and France have revealed the presence of cancer causing chemical, benzene. The levels found are 8 times the permissible limit in drinking water (1 ppm benzene), according to the Food Standards Agency, involved in the testing process.
The carcinogenic chemical, produced during partial combustion of carbon-rich compounds such as petrochemicals and cigarette, was first discovered by Michael Faraday in the year 1825. The chemical has been known to cause leukaemia and other blood cancers. Sodium benzoate, a food preservative and vitamin C (ascorbic acid) could react to yield benzene as a by-product. This is especially important as beverage companies now add loads of vitamin C to the drink, hoping to attract more customers.
The practice of using sodium benzoate-vitamin C combination has been in use since the early 1990s. Some of the products known to use sodium benzoate include the Britvic branded products such as Britvic 55 (apple and orange flavours), Shandy Bass and Pennine Spring flavoured waters. It is unclear if any of these products have been contaminated.
Following the disclosure, the food safety campaigners haven urged the Government to reveal the identity of the benzene containing products. This would be very important as a lot of children and teenagers consume soft drinks. They have also demanded that extensive studies be conducted to analyze the safe level of benzene in soft drinks.
FSA, the government watchdog has called for more investigation and has stated that there is no immediate health risk. 'Let's have further investigations and regular discussions with the drinks industry to check what is happening. If levels are high then the FSA will take action to protect consumers,' said an agency spokesman.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority has expressed concern over the long-tem consequences associated with benzene ingestion. In view of the above situation, parents have been warned about giving their children vitamin C filled soft drinks under an impression that it might improve their health.