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Canadians Not At Risk From Benzene Levels In Soft Drinks

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Health Canada has completed a follow-up survey of soft drinks and reconfirms that the benzene levels in these products do not represent a risk to the public.

Health Canada’s study was conducted in 2007 and is a follow-up to a soft drink survey done in 2006 which found that levels of benzene did not pose a risk to the public.

An improved and extremely sensitive benzene detection method was used for the 2007 survey. The survey found that most of the products tested had levels well below the Canadian guideline of five micrograms per litre of benzene in drinking water. The average benzene levels in most products remain low.

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Health Canada's 2006 survey on benzene found that in the majority of the products tested, benzene was either not detected or found at levels below the lowest concentration that could be reliably measured. Overall, only four products were found that had levels above the Canadian guideline of five micrograms per litre for benzene in drinking water.

The 2007 survey found that levels of benzene in three of the products were above the Canadian drinking water guideline for benzene. However, Health Canada’s health risk assessment concludes that the benzene levels in these three products do not pose a risk to Canadians. Two of these products are meant to be diluted before drinking, resulting in a lower exposure to benzene. In addition, the manufacturer of one of these products has reformulated their product to prevent benzene formation. Health Canada has analysed a sample of the reformulated product and confirmed that the levels of benzene have been reduced and are now below the drinking water guideline.

Benzene is a known human carcinogen and can form in drinks when ascorbic acid combines with either sodium benzoate or potassium benzoate, which are preservatives used in some drinks to prevent bacteria growth.

However, the presence of ascorbic acid and benzoates alone does not necessarily mean that benzene will form. Specific conditions are required for trace levels of benzene to form, including the presence of heat, ultraviolet light and metallic ions in the mixture.

Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will continue to work with the beverage industry to ensure that the formation of benzene during manufacturing is minimized and to take all necessary steps to help Canadians maintain and improve their health.