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The Contra Costa Times reports that a number of public health experts have called for a federal ban on the sale of selected soft drinks in public schools until it can be ascertained that these beverages do not contain the carcinogenic chemical benzene.

According to the paper, “Benzene isn't an ingredient in soft drinks, but it can form when two commonly found ingredients react: ascorbic acid, otherwise known as vitamin C, and the preservatives sodium benzoate or potassium benzoate. The reaction can happen when products are exposed to light or heat.

"’Soft drinks that contain ascorbic acid and sodium or potassium benzoate include Diet Pepsi Wild Cherry, Fanta Orange, Hawaiian Punch, Mug Root Beer, Pepsi Vanilla, Sierra Mist, Sunkist and Tropicana Lemonade, among others,’ the letter said, urging that these drinks be banned from schools “until you can look parents in the eye and assure them that their children will suffer no harm.”

The Times notes that “the possible presence of benzene in soda, juice drinks, sports drinks and bottled water became a concern recently when testing found that some products had levels two to four times higher than is considered safe in drinking water.”

Kevin Keane, a spokesman for the American Beverage Association (ABA), the letter is “irresponsible and reckless.” Keane said, "It would be gullible for schools to bite on this letter," Keane said. "The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has given no indication there is a public health concern here. We are working with the FDA. There is no way we would put any product in schools or anywhere that is unsafe.”
KC's View:
While we agree that it is important not to overreact to studies, we also think that it is possible that parents won’t agree that it is reckless and irresponsible to pull products that may have two to four times the carcinogens normally deemed to be acceptable. The problem with such statements is that if further tests come back and prove the benzene concerns, they can be thrown back at the industry.