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FDA Silent about Benzene

FDA silent despite knowledge of the problem
Agency Trusted Industry to Change Formulas in 1990, Yet Still Finds Sodas with Benzene

(WASHINGTON, Feb 28 2006) - Today the Environmental Working Group (EWG) sent a letter to the FDA requesting that the Agency notify the public about the presence of two ingredients in many popular children's drinks that can mix together to form the cancer-causing chemical benzene. The FDA last addressed this problem more than 15 years ago when it entered into a voluntary agreement with the beverage industry to reformulate its products to avoid the presence of this hazardous mixture. It appears, based on news reports and a sampling by EWG of popular children's drinks from retail outlets, that many manufacturers have not complied.

In 1990, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) learned that certain soft drinks marketed to children contain two ingredients that can mix in the soda to form the toxic carcinogen benzene. The Agency didn't tell the public, but instead merely asked companies to voluntarily change their formulas to eliminate the problem.

So far in 2006, two news outlets have reported that the Agency is again testing soft drinks, finding benzene sometimes at levels above the safe limit for drinking water, and asking companies to change their formulas. To date the FDA has concealed this information from the public.

On February 24 and February 27, 2006, EWG staff found many juices and sodas at major national retail outlets containing the ingredients that can form benzene. The beverage industry appears to have flagrantly ignored the 1990 agreement to eliminate chemical combinations that can form benzene in their products and the FDA, by all accounts, has done nothing about it.

"Benzene is a potent carcinogen that has no place in foods and drinks targeted to children," said Richard Wiles, Sr. Vice President of Environmental Working Group. "We urge the FDA to immediately issue a statement telling consumers which ingredients in foods and drinks can combine to form benzene," Wiles added.

In the meantime EWG is providing the following information to consumers:

To steer clear of chemicals in foods and drinks that can mix together to form benzene, consumers should avoid products that contain both ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and either sodium benzoate or potassium benzoate.
"Once again, the FDA has sided with industry and against the public, in this case by concealing simple information that would allow people to easily avoid benzene in the drinks they give their children," said Wiles. "Once people have this information, we are convinced that food and drink manufacturers will simply reformulate their products, as many already have done, and as FDA originally intended in 1990."

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