Even the latest round of tests would not have been conducted if it weren't for documents posted on the internet late last year by an industry whistleblower named Larry Alibrandi
...says Alibrandi, who is now head of American Quality Beverages, a small New York producer of health drinks.
"We have hundreds of examples from the trade, and many of them could potentially be a problem.What's especially disconcerting is the products engineered for children, where it's a potentially bigger problem for them since their body mass is very small."
No recallIn November 1990, Alibrandi was working in product development at the Connecticut labs of the British company Cadbury-Schweppes, when he says he was called into his supervisor's office one morning.
closed the door and had a very, very concerned look on his
face," recounts Alibrandi
said that a carcinogen was found in beverages, and they were concerned because they didn't know what the source was."That same day, Alibrandi
booked a flight to Florida to test samples in a special lab capable of exposing them to extremes of heat and light.
After several trials, Cadbury-Schweppes' chemists determined that the benzene was caused by a chemical reaction between the preservative sodium benzoate and ascorbic acid (Vitamin C).
Apart from the potential bad publicity, Alibrandi
speculates that the Big Three soft drink makers (Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Cadbury-Schweppes) didn't publicly recall their products in 1990 because of fears that they might have to replace sodium benzoate - an important anti-microbial preservative.Without it or its cousin potassium benzoate, he
says, drink makers would be unable to cold-bottle their drinks, instead having to undertake the more costly process of heat pasteurization."The Big Three are going to safeguard that preservative," says Alibrandi
But recently, Alibrandi
was shocked when he
pulled trade samples of hundreds of beverages and found the same combination of sodium or potassium benzoate and ascorbic acid, including some without the "technical fix" of one of the chelating agents."I was astounded to see the number of products that contained this combination," says Alibrandi
."If this broke 15 years ago, why wasn't this rectified across the industry?The consumers of America deserve better."Alibrandi
and his lawyer, Ross Getman, alerted the FDA
to the problem last November, but the agency initially denied the need for new tests, saying that it had adequately dealt with the issue in the early 1990s.
After being rebuffed by the FDA
and Getman organized their own series of independent tests in November, acquiring samples from as far away as Italy and Argentina and submitting them to a lab in New York.
Getman and Alibrandi
are now awaiting the results of further testing in the United States and other countries to determine the extent of the problem that was first discovered in a lab 16 years ago.