After concerns by food authorities in the UK Europe and the US over the level of benzene in certain soft drinks, Today Tonight conducted its own tests on many of Australia's popular soft drinks.
The presence of benzine is caused by the interaction of a widely-used preservative sodium benzoate and ascorbic acid or vitamin C. Benzoates appear on food and drink labels as numbers from 210 to 219.
What worries Associate Professor Geoff Skurray, an expert in toxins found in foods, is that our food regulators don't seem to be concerned with the issue that has made headlines overseas and led to a recall of many brands of drinks.
Dr Howard Dengate, a world authority on the impact of chemical preservatives in foods and drinks, says soft drink manufacturers have known about the likelihood of the problem for more than 15 years, but there's been little action to address it.
While many countries have set levels for the tolerance of benzine, Australia has yet to act, although there is a limit of 1 part per billion of benzine in drinking water.
In Today Tonight's tests of 15 brands, we found levels of benzine in six samples. The highest reading was 7ppb in Schweppes Natural Mineral Water Lemon Orange and Lime. Schweppes Natural Mineral Water Lemon and LIme recorded 4.7ppb, Lift had 4.6ppb, Fanta Orange 3.5 ppb, Solo 3.0 ppb and Applemaid Sparkling Apple juice had 1ppb.
Australia's regulatory body Food Standards Australia and New Zealand say they are aware of benzine levels in soft drinks and are currently undertaking a review. However they say there isn't a public health risk and point out that you can breathe as much benizine in the air as you would by consuming 20 litres of soft drink.
However Dr Dengate wants the regulators to act swiftly, to force manufacturers to either reduce or eliminate the presence of benzine.
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