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Coca-Cola Co. Sued As Part of Effort to Force Soft Drink Makers to Eliminate Ingredients That Can Form Cancer-Causing Benzene

Connie Bennett / Common Voice | August 28 2006

For those of you behind on the news, sugar isn't the only ingredient that makes soda dangerous these days. There's a new concern percolating bigtime, and it's called benzene. And this substance -- as you can learn here -- can be quite dangerous. In fact, benzene is linked to leukemia and other forms of cancer.

In the latest round, Coca-Cola Co. was sued Friday as part of an effort to force soft drink makers to get rid of ingredients in their drinks that can form this cancer-causing benzene, the AP's prolific writer Libby Quaid reported.

Interestingly, the action against soft drink giant Coke comes as two smaller companies settled a lawsuit over benzene, which can form in soft drinks containing vitamin C (also called ascorbic acid), and either sodium benzoate or potassium benzoate. In fact, scientists heat or light exposure or other factors can actually trigger a reaction that forms benzene in beverages.

"The companies that settled, Atlanta-based In Zone Brands Inc., maker of BellyWashers, and Preston, Wash.-based TalkingRain Beverage Co., denied that their products caused any harm," Quaid reported. Despite their claims, both companies agreed to change their ingredients and to refund or replace drinks made before a switch in ingredients. According to the lawsuits, independent lab tests found benzene levels in the drinks to be above the federal limit for benzene in drinking water.

It'll be very interesting to see what Coke does, given that these smaller companies have settled and agreed to product changes. Obviously, it would make sense for the soft drink giant to do some quick formulation changing, too. And, gee, wouldn't it be nice if, at the same time, they cut back on sugar content but left out artificial sweeteners? Yeah, I know, it's a pipe dream.

By the way, here's what the EPA has to say about this substance:

"Benzene is found in the air from emissions from burning coal and oil, gasoline service stations, and motor vehicle exhaust. Acute (short-term) inhalation exposure of humans to benzene may cause drowsiness, dizziness, headaches, as well as eye, skin, and respiratory tract irritation, and, at high levels, unconsciousness. Chronic (long-term) inhalation exposure has caused various disorders in the blood, including reduced numbers of red blood cells and aplastic anemia, in occupational settings. Reproductive effects have been reported for women exposed by inhalation to high levels, and adverse effects on the developing fetus have been observed in animal tests. Increased incidence of leukemia (cancer of the tissues that form white blood cells) have been observed in humans occupationally exposed to benzene. EPA has classified benzene as a Group A, human carcinogen."

Excuse my naivete, but how could soda companies create beverages that cause benzene to be formed? Isn't that horribly irresponsible?

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