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Monday, June 1, 1998 Published at 20:18 GMT 21:18 UK

Health: Latest News

Leading soft drinks withdrawn

Only some supplies are thought to present increased risk

BBC correspondent Nicola Carslaw says the scare has hit the drinks industry hard
Millions of cans and bottles of fizzy drinks and mineral water, including Coca-Cola and Diet Pepsi, are being withdrawn due to fears that some might be contaminated with a cancer-causing poison.

Soft-drink companies are pulling particular batches of drinks off the shelves after trace levels of benzene were found in carbon dioxide supplies used to make the drinks.

'Safer than walking to the shop'

The carbon dioxide originated in the Terra Nitrogen factory in Severnside, near Bristol, which distributes the gas to carbonated drinks manufacturers.

[ image: Terra Nitrogen: supplies much of the carbonated drinks industry]
Terra Nitrogen: supplies much of the carbonated drinks industry
Jackie Dowthwaite, a spokeswoman for the British Soft Drinks Association, said the suspect drinks posed no safety hazard to anybody - even those who might have drunk quite a few of them.

Breathing city air would be more dangerous, she said. "You get more benzene by walking to the shop than by drinking the can of whatever it is,'' she added.

Suspect batches removed

Coca-Cola Schweppes said it had identified some canned drinks containing traces of benzene, but was only withdrawing specified batches from sale.

These include some cans of Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, caffeine free Diet Coke, Cherry Coke, Lilt, Diet Lilt, Lilt Mango Mandarin, Sprite, Sprite Lite, Fanta, Dr Pepper, Schweppes Shandy and Schweppes Slimline Shandy.

It has also recalled stocks of Malvern water.

[ image: Malvern water: off the shelves]
Malvern water: off the shelves
A company spokeswoman said the problem had only affected a small proportion of its total output, but she said they were taking the action "as a responsible manufacturer".

Britvic Soft Drinks said it was withdrawing 2.25m cans that may have been affected, including regular and diet Orange Tango, regular Lemon Tango, Pepsi Max, Diet Pepsi, regular 7Up and 7Up Light.

It also said that only certain batches of the drinks might have been affected, and that only those ones were being recalled.

Several supermarkets have also removed Brecon Carreg mineral water from sale.

Other brands of water and soft drinks such as Lucozade and carbonated Ribena - both made by SmithKline Beecham - are being tested. They may also have to be withdrawn if the results prove positive.

'No threat to the public'

Bob Snowdon of Terra Nitrogen: "There is very little risk"
The alert was sparked on Friday after some samples of water were found to contain up to 20 parts of benzene in one million - twice the maximum safety limit recommended by the World Health Organisation guidelines.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food says the levels would only represent a negligible health risk.

[ image: 160 million bottles of Perrier were removed in a 1990 alert]
160 million bottles of Perrier were removed in a 1990 alert
Bob Snowdon, a spokesman for Terra Nitrogen also insists there is no threat to the public.

"We don't believe it's a dangerous level. All the information we have suggests it's a quality issue, and there's very little risk associated with the levels found so far," he said.

The last major benzene alert was in 1990 when Perrier withdrew 160 million bottles of its water after experts in America found traces of the chemical at up to 22 parts per billion in 13 bottles.

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