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EWG in the News
Related to EWG's work on Benzene
False Info Put Out By Industry About Benzene In Soft Drinks
In disparaging my argument that the public should demand that soda companies adhere to the standard for drinking water regarding benzene, John Luik makes a number of factual errors in a piece for the American Beverage Association-sponsored Tech Central Station ("TCS"). TCS is published by DCI Group, a Republican lobbying and PR firm based in Washington, DC On its webpage, it says: "TCS is supported by a small group of sponsors: the American Beverage Association [and then it lists others such as McDonalds]. ( http://www.tcsdaily.com/about.aspx)
My suggestion that the drinking water standard should apply is not merely my position. It is the industry's previous long-held public position that was reported to me after I wrote dozens of regulators and industry regulatory people in October 2005. When 162 million bottles of Perrier were recalled in 1990 and when 52 million cans and bottles of Coca-Cola products were recalled in the UK in 1998 due to benzene contamination, the companies emphasized that they were determined to adhere to quality standards (and so any characterization of the public health issues was immaterial).
The industry did not first discover the problem as Mr. Luik claims. It was first discovered and reported in connection with independent testing by a Florida state agency.
He is mistaken that the benzene in Perrier was not due to contamination. It was due to contaminated carbon dioxide that was then passed through the spring water. In 1998, Coke similarly explained that the drinks had been contaminated by tainted carbon dioxide (without disclosing the underlying tendency of benzene to form). The same problem exists in the fragmented soft drink fountain trade, where non-beverage grade carbon dioxide is often used in dispensing soft drinks. Testing by an independent, certified lab of fountain drinks is being done.
The soft drinks are urged by the companies, the American Beverage Association and industry shills as serving the purpose of hydration -- indeed, the drinks consist mostly of water. Flavoring water, and adding caffeine, phosphoric acid and other deleterious ingredients, does not suddenly make the drinking water standard less pertinent. Many teens drink more soft drinks than water.
Luik mistakenly claims "As a result of the Environmental Working Group's [EWG's] claims, both the United Kingdom and Germany began checking for benzene. To the contrary, the EWG discovered the data contained in the FDA's own Total Diet Study after Germany and others had already determined to conduct testing at my request in 2005. Germany issued a lucid statement on the subject on December 1, 2005. The FDA, too, agreed to start testing after a private, independent lab tested the ABA Chairman's Polar Diet Orange at 24 ppb , 2/3 less sugar Bellywashers at 18 and 39 ppb, and a Coca-Cola product from Argentina at 66 ppb.
I first contacted the FDA on September 21, 2005, the Wednesday before FDA Commissioner Dr. Lester Crawford resigned without explanation on Friday. A federal grand jury, according to his attorney, has been addressing undisclosed stock he held after becoming Commissioner, to include up to $100,000 in Pepsi according to reports in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times.
Luik fails to note that the other governments who have considered the question -- to include China, South Korea, the UK, Finland and many others -- have all agreed the drinking water standard should serve as the guide for product recalls. A principled debate would be focused on which water standard should apply -- the state standard, the federal standard, or the World Health Organization standard. The US stands alone in allowing even benzene-laden products that have been publicly noticed above the WHO standard in governmental testing to remain on the market. That's right -- the US standards in this regard are more lax than China and South Korea and many others.
Luik claims the Florida suit alleges that the benzene in their drink products exceeds the five parts per billion limit for U.S. drinking water and thus constitutes a carcinogenic hazard. Actually, the drinking water standard in Florida is 1 ppb, as it is in many states, to include others where suit was filed. If not recalled, at the very least the presence of benzene above the drinking water standard should have been disclosed to consumers. Some mothers would opt for soft drinks for their children that are benzene-free.
Luik appears to not even know that when the relevant soft drinks are tested (those that contain the combination of benzoate and ascorbic acid), most do test positive above the EU 1 ppb drinking water standard. Indeed, South Korea had 27 out of 30 products test over the US EPA standard of 5 ppb. (The country is hot and the level varies with temperature). In testing in the UK by the industry, 130 out of 230 tested above the EU 1 ppb standard. Many of those tested by the FDA did not even contain the combination. Moreover, they tested in the winter, pulling products from Michigan rather than Florida or Texas. In testing by a private lab in New York State, a Crystal Light past its "best by" date but still being sold, tested at 100 ppb "off the shelf" and a sample exposed to 3 days at 99 degrees in an incubator tested at 150 ppb. Benzene levels vary with both shelf life and exposure to heat and sunlight . The FDA has acted irresponsibly in not testing products exposed to heat. Summer is now here. Enjoy.
In 1990, one Pepsi product tested by Cadbury tested at 1 ppb "off the shelf" and then went to 41.5 ppb after being exposed to heat and light in a weatherometer. Diet Orange Crush tested at 25 ppb "off the shelf" and then 82 ppb after exposure to heat and light.
It is regrettable when quality standards are no longer followed by the makers of a product so widely consumed by children. It is even more regrettable when quality standards are not followed by that industry's propagandists who don't even take the care to get the basic facts right (and then don't make corrections after the errors are pointed out). The use of such shills and industry fronts just serve to confuse the debate and are not a principled response by an industry.
It's all more lamentable because the American Beverage Association not only is a sponsor of Tech Central, but makes many of the same mistakes in the propaganda it spews directly.
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