Regarding chemical synergies, I read: if someone ingests various products containing sodium benzoate (for example soft drinks that exist) AND if one has had some quantity of vitamin C there might be 'reactions' that produce benzene, a carcinogen.

Some people have told me you'd have to drink a lot of pop for this to happen (assuming you have had some vitamin C during the day), but how much pop is a lot?

Given one has had a glass of orange juice say, how much pop would one have to drink before a benzene molecule is formed?

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    $\begingroup$ I've never heard of this before. Can you support your statement with a claim? This sounds like it should be on Skeptics. $\endgroup$ – LanceLafontaine Aug 14 '14 at 0:49
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    $\begingroup$ Can sodium benzoate and vitamin C interact 'badly'? $\endgroup$ – user128932 Aug 14 '14 at 3:45

The reaction taking place is described in article Benzene production from decarboxylation of benzoic acid in the presence of ascorbic acid and a transition-metal catalyst and its importance for food safety recently reviewed in Evaluation of Accelerated UV and Thermal Testing for Benzene Formation in Beverages Containing Benzoate and Ascorbic Acid.

To summarize, the reaction CAN occur, namely at elevated temperatures (>50 °C) and UV-light and in presence of transition metal. Even if the reaction takes place, the amount of benzene formed is either below detection limit, or below limit for drinking water.

For the end user it means, that in extremely unlucky situation, the benzene can form in quantity, which is not considered safe to drink in unlimited amount for the whole life (1 ppb). As such, I would consider the benzene formation as very weak argument against such beverages (mainly if compared with other problems, such as sugar content and associated obesity).

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for the info. Would drinking an average of 4 L. of pop per day make benezene formation more likely? $\endgroup$ – user128932 Aug 15 '14 at 2:28
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    $\begingroup$ I have troubles understanding your problem as a valid one. I am not aware of any reasonable diet containing 4L of pop per day. Recommended WATER intake is ~2L per day. If you are about to drink 4L of pop per day, be ready to die from anything else but benzene caused cancer. $\endgroup$ – ssavec Aug 15 '14 at 7:00
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not saying this is part of a reasonable diet yet I have seen many young adults buy 2 L. bottles of Coke say seemingly to drink them for the caffeine and sugar buzz. I think a lot of young people and adults use Coke and Pepsi in a way similar to energy drinks. In this obsession to be energized and/or stay awake aren't you worried some may be drinking too much in one day. If a young person drinks a lot of Coke in one day for weeks to stay awake while studying ,say; it may not accumulate enough benzene to do harm but does this molecule stay in the body for a while? $\endgroup$ – user128932 Aug 15 '14 at 7:20
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    $\begingroup$ Please see the toxicology of benzene, very brief: crios.be/Benzene/toxicology.htm, very long: atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp.asp?id=40&tid=14 The benzene is really not a problem here. $\endgroup$ – ssavec Aug 15 '14 at 7:49
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    $\begingroup$ Actually, the toxicology of benzene is quite interesting. The problem is not the benzene itself, but benzene oxide, which is formed as the body tries to get rid of benzene. The benzene itself does not accumulate, but mutations caused by benzene oxide do. But really please, read some toxicology, nice short and accurate here: hpa.org.uk/webc/hpawebfile/hpaweb_c/1194947391801 To say, gallons of coke may contain the same amount of benzene as you inhale during smoking of 1 cigarette. $\endgroup$ – ssavec Aug 18 '14 at 7:24

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