Saturday, April 08, 2006

Benzene: The Choice Of A New Generation!

I had a paranoid moment last week.

It wasn't that anything actually happened to me. It was simply that a couple of facts came to my attention at the same time. Now, combine that with the flu that I'm fighting off, and you end up with the perfect brain setting for paranoia.

You see, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has acknowledged that benzene, a cancer-causing chemical, has been found in soft drinks at levels that far exceed the amount considered safe for drinking water.

But the federal government insists there is no cause for concern. While they accept that benzene is a dangerous chemical, they insist that the new findings are not placing anyone at risk.

Strangely enough, by admitting that the levels of benzene are higher than previously estimated, the FDA is contradicting a statement they issued last week, when officials said they had found only insignificant levels of benzene in soda. "We haven't changed our view that right now, there is not a safety concern, not a public health concern," said FDA official Laura Tarantino, "but what we need to do is understand how benzene forms and to ensure the industry is doing everything to avoid those circumstances."

A different study found the amount of benzene in 19 of 24 samples of diet sodas was, on average, four times the levels accepted in tap water. Tarantino says those chemists are overestimating the amount of benzene, and the FDA is not yet ready to release the results of their own study of benzene in soft drinks.

The Environmental Working Group says that the FDA is supressing this information. "If they're so confident the situation is not a safety risk, they need to release the data to prove it," said Richard Wiles, the group's senior vice president. "The only data available to the public contradict their claim."

Coincidentally, when the tobacco corporations were forced to reveal a list of the dangerous chemicals in their products, they also failed to mention benzene. In this case, though, it was completely understandable. Benzene does not need to be added to tobacco, because it forms naturally when you burn it.

Benzene is, of course, not the only risk associated with soft drinks. Despite studies showing that habitual coffee use will not increase rates of high blood pressure in women, apparently drinking a cola will. And aside from obesity, soft drinks are suggested as the cause of other health problems.

Of course, despite numerous studies showing the links between soft drinks and poor health, there will always be a dissenting opinion. And, as usual, that opinion can be found on Fox News.

So, if everybody except Fox News thinks that something is bad, I'll admit that I usually figure that Fox News is wrong. (Let's just say "they're wrong." We don't have to argue about why they're wrong, do we? After all, I can't think of any way that it would benefit a major news corporation if they always changed stories to reflect what the White House wants to hear. Can you?)

In March of 2005, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set limits on the amounts of mercury that could be emitted by power plants. At the time, the EPA said that they couldn't make the limits more "aggressive" because the cost to the industry was already more than the public health benefit.

Which would have been true, if they weren't ignoring a study by Harvard University that said that slightly greater limits would have health benefits worth more than five billion dollars per year, but would cost the industry three quarters of a billion dollars.

This was a study that the EPA had paid for, that was co-authored by an EPA scientist, and that was peer-reviewed by two other EPA scientists. In common language, the EPA wasted our tax dollars to ignore a study that might have made Americans healthier.

At first, the EPA claimed that the study results didn't get to them in time for their deadline. When interviews and documents proved that to be a lie, they switched their stories, and claimed that the Harvard study was using "flawed" data about the heart problems caused by mercury contamination. They did manage to stick by their original claim that the health benefits would only be around fifty million dollars, though.

The government's action is probably completely unrelated to the fact that the EPA dismantled a previous working group on mercury, just as they were about to require much more stringent regulations from all coal-burning power plants in America.

With their new ruling, the EPA completely ignored previous studies that showed that mercury contamination in seafood caused irreversible damage not only to the hearts of adults, but to brain functions in infants.

Let's repeat the most important word there: "irreversible." As in "can't be fixed." The EPA had accepted those studies at the time, and as a result, had already suggested that pregnant women limit their intake of seafood to no more than twelve ounces per week.

Remember the Office of National Drug Control Policy (the ONDCP), the guys who make those stupid anti-drug ads? Here's what they have to say about inhalants:
Upon inhalation, the body becomes starved of oxygen, forcing the heart to beat more rapidly in an attempt to increase blood flow to the brain. The user initially experiences stimulation, a loss of inhibition, and a distorted perception of reality and spatial relations. After a few minutes, the senses become depressed and a sense of lethargy arises as the body attempts to stabilize blood flow to the brain, usually referred to as a "head rush."
Did you follow that? If the brain isn't getting enough oxygen, the body tries to compensate, and the owner of that body (and by extention, that brain) gets high.
Damage is also caused to the cerebral cortex and the cerebellum, resulting in personality changes, memory impairment, hallucinations, loss of coordination, and slurred speech.
Part of that damage is caused by the chemicals that are being inhaled, of course. But part of the damage is caused by oxygen starvation to the brain. Now, let's see if you can remember that high school biology class. What carries oxygen to the brain? That's right: red blood cells. And remember that benzene that the government is allowing into our sodas? Do you know what it does to the body, aside from causing cancer?
The major effect of benzene from long-term exposure is on the blood. (Long-term exposure means exposure of a year or more.) Benzene causes harmful effects on the bone marrow and can cause a decrease in red blood cells, leading to anemia.
So, what do you think would happen over a long period of time if the brain couldn't get enough oxygen because the blood couldn't carry it?

That's right. Brain damage.

So, here we have the US government allowing mercury, which is known to cause brain damage, into the environment. And then it allows benzene, which could cause brain damage if it was consumed over a long period of time, into our sodas.

And I have two teen-aged sons. I know exactly how much soda they'll drink if you leave them alone. (OK, one of them is twenty. If you squint your eyes just right, he's not technically a "teenager" any more. He still sucks down soda like a vacuum pump.)

So that's why I had my paranoid moment. Can you imagine why a government that isn't very good about hiding their lies might appreciate a brain-damaged electorate?

But with a little further thought, I realized that I was giving too much credit to the planning abilities of that same government. Why set up an elaborate, long-term plan when simple, short-term stupidity is more likely to be the cause?

They didn't let mercury into the fish and into the air around the coal-burning plants because they wanted people to get mercury poisoning. They did it because it would cost less if the corporations didn't have to pay to get the mercury out. For that matter, they didn't let benzene into the sodas because they wanted people sucking down quarts of poison every day. It would just cost the soda companies money to take it out. The problem isn't that the government is trying to harm the American people. It's that the government doesn't care.

And what about the corporations who are making all this money off of the people? Shouldn't they care about the fact that if the people are all dead, there won't be anybody left to buy the products?

You know, there's a very strong movement out there to prevent sex education, limit birth control, and outlaw abortion. I wonder why that would be?

Aw, crap. Now I'm having another one of those paranoid moments...


Update: May 22, 2006
And will you look at what happens almost two months after I posted this? It seems that the FDA finally released their results. Out of only 100 drinks that they tested (not just sodas -- "drinks" -- anybody want to try and figure out how many thousands of drinks are on the market today?), they found five with more than the 5 parts per billion limit that they set. One of them (Safeway Select Diet Orange) had 79 parts per billion.

The article then goes on to explain the various health risks associated with benzene:
As well as being linked to many health disorders, respiratory and skin problems, blood disorders, high benzene exposure is linked to the following cancers:

-- ALL (acute lymphocytic leukemia)
-- AML (acute myelogenous leukaemia)
-- CLL (chronic lymphocytic leukemia)
-- CML chronic myelogenous leukemia)
-- HCL (hairy cell leukemia)
-- Hodgkin's disease
-- MDS (myelodysplastic syndrome)
-- Multiple myeloma
-- NHL (non-Hodgkin's lymphoma)
So, hey, enjoy that soda.

By the way, despite the title of this entry, Coca Cola doesn't have either sodium benzoate or potassium benzoate. However, most of the other varieties (Diet Coke, Cherry Vanilla Honey Almond Licorice Coke, and all of 'em like that) do. Read your labels.


Jersey Cynic said...

Cynic - O.K. now I'm REALLY getting paranoid. I blog over at blondesense.blogspot and have just come off of a wild, non-stop week in the "bloggosphere" that just ended. Haven't been over at C & L for a few days due to much needed sleep. I attributed my week of "coincidences" to fatigue and deliberate attention to ALL the details. Now that I am somewhat rested up, I am back to my sites that I visit regularly. I saw the Cynic link, and OF COURSE, clicked. WOW!

I have three children and have always tried very, very, hard to keep them away from soft drinks. Why? Since I am a "paranoid type" I always felt that there has got to be something in soda, that someday, we will learn is not good. O.K., maybe it was just my way of avoiding a lot of trips to the dentist.
This is pretty wild stuff. I am now going to go back to all of your links in this most intersting piece you have posted. Oh Boy......
Talk to you later.

hotfroggy said...

stumbled here from crooks and liars. in addition to benzene, sodas have high fructose corn syrup sugars in huge amounts, and have been linked to obesity and early onset diabetes in young adults. there is a lot to be said for healthy eating!! my teen aged son thinkg i'm from another planet, but i eat healthy, fresh and organic as much as possible!

lucid_green said...

Recent studies have said that HFCS and other forms or fructose have the same effect when talking about obesity, etc. However, one unpublished study done at the University of Utah found that one serving of HFCS (however much that is) is as bad for your liver as one serving of alcohol. I know about it because my brother-in-law was a part of the study.
Now alcoholics aside, most people consume way more servings of HFCS than they do of alcohol. The question is, how does this compare with other forms of fructose? All fructose causes fatty build up in the liver, after all -- another form of cirrhosis often attributed to "unknown causes". Either way, that was a detail I failed to ask my brother-in-law because it didn't cross my mind, but the point of the study was to compare the effect of the 2 and I think cane sugar came out on top. I don't know about beet sugar, though (also a different fructose compound).