May 22, 2006- Reps. Markey, Waxman Call on FDA To Take Soft Drinks Containing Cancer Causing Chemicals Off The Shelves

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In response to media reports about elevated levels of benzene—a harmful carcinogen—in many popular soft drinks and fruit and energy drinks, on March 27, 2006, Representative Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and Representative Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), senior Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, sent a letter to the FDA urging the FDA to take immediate action to warn and protect the public against the risk of benzene.  The letter also requested that FDA  provide detailed information about FDA’s knowledge of and plan for addressing the benzene contamination by no later than April 10, 2006.  Today, nearly two months later, FDA has not yet responded this letter.  Late afternoon on Friday, May 19, 2006, the FDA decided to release select data from its own tests for benzene in beverages conducted by the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN).

Benzene is formed by a combination of two common ingredients in soft drinks, and fruit and energy drinks—ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) and benzoate preservatives.  Fifteen years ago, the FDA learned that many types of soft drinks contained dangerous levels of benzene, but failed to take any enforcement action or alert the public of the risk. Instead the FDA relied on assurances that the industry would voluntarily reformulate their products to prevent the formation of benzene. 

In November 2005, FDA again learned that a number of soft drinks contained elevated benzene levels.  In response, CFSAN conducted its own tests on over 100 samples of soft drinks and other beverages.  FDA’s newly released test results show that at least four types of popular beverages contain dangerous levels of benzene.  Unfortunately, it appears FDA is once again relying upon assurances from the beverage industry to protect consumers from unsafe beverages—in its release, FDA stated “We believe that appropriate steps currently are being taken by industry as well as FDA to make sure that benzene formation in beverages is minimized to levels below the drinking water standard of 5 ppb.”

Rep. Markey and Rep. Waxman, released the following statements applauding the FDA’s decision to release data on benzene levels in soft drinks and urging the FDA to take immediate action to protect the public.

Rep. Markey said, “Now that we know that certain soft drinks contain dangerous levels of cancer causing agents, we cannot sit idly by. The FDA must take whatever actions are necessary to ensure that these unsafe beverages are removed from our grocery store shelves. We are pleased that the FDA has finally decided to inform the public that at least some of soft drinks that pose a potential risk to the public health due to unsafe levels of benzene but the FDA now needs to release all of the data and take immediate action to ensure that soft drinks sold in the United States do not increase the risk of cancer.”

Rep. Waxman said, “FDA’s recent data proves, once again, what we already learned in 1990—that the beverage industry could not be trusted to voluntarily protect the public from dangerous drinks.  It is time to stop relying on the empty promises of the industry.  FDA must take immediate steps to make sure that unsafe beverage are taken off the shelves—and that they never enter the marketplace in the first place.”

Rep. Markey said, “In 1990, the FDA relied on assurances from the beverage industry that they would voluntarily clean up their act and remove benzene from their products. These tests now prove that sixteen years later, the industry is still selling soda spiked with cancer-causing benzene. It is time for the FDA to take action to ensure that the American public is not poisoned by their pop. ”

Soft Drinks with Unsafe* Levels of Benzene According to FDA tests

PRODUCT

FOUND, ppb

METHOD
1

METHOD
2

Safeway Select Diet Orange, lot 1

79.2

 

Safeway Select Diet Orange, lot 2

15.2

10.7

Safeway Select Diet Orange, lot 3

13.2

11.4

Crush Pineapple

 

9.2

AquaCal Strawberry Flavored Water Beverage, lot 1

23.4

 

AquaCal Strawberry Flavored Water Beverage, lot 2

10.4

9.2

Crystal Light Sunrise Classic Orange, lot 1

76.6

87.9

Crystal Light Sunrise Classic Orange, lot 3

 

73.9

Giant Light Cranberry Juice Cocktail, lot 1 (ascorbate only)

10.7

9.1

Giant Light Cranberry Juice Cocktail, lot 2 (ascorbate only)

 

5.4

AquaCal Strawberry Flavored Water Beverage (reformulated)**

 

n.d.

AquaCal Peach Mango Flavored Water Beverage (reformulated) **

 

n.d.

Crystal Light Sunrise Classic Orange, lot 5 (reformulated) **

 

<1

Kool-Aid Jammers Juice Drink Kiwi-Strawberry, lot 2 (reformulated) **

<1

 


The complete results released by the FDA are available on the FDA website at: http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/benzdata.html

*The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established the maximum allowable level for benzene in drinking water to be 5 ppb. Anything above 5ppb is considered unsafe.
** Although these products were originally identified as containing greater than 5 ppb benzene, the FDA website states that manufacturers have already reformulated these products. The FDA did not release the original tests of these products, only the tests on the reformulated products.

According to the FDA website, “Because of the limited survey data to date, we cannot yet understand the sources of variation in measured benzene levels, such as variability between different product lots and the effects of storage and handling. For example, although one sample from a production lot may contain elevated benzene levels, it does not mean that all the products from that lot will have elevated levels, or that all lots of a given product will contain elevated levels.”

For more a copy of the letter or more information on Rep. Markey’s work on the safety of drugs on the market, clinical trials, post-marketing studies and FDA oversight, please visit www.house.gov/markey.

A copy of the March 27, 2006 letter from Reps. Waxman and Markey to FDA is available at:  http://www.waxman.house.gov/pdfs/letter_soda_benzene_3.27.06.pdf

For Immediate Release
May 22, 2006

 CONTACT: Tara McGuinness,
Kate Reinhalter (Markey)

202.225.2836
Karen Lightfoot (Waxman)
202.225.5051