Mountain Dew Madness: What’s That Flame Retardant Doing in My Soda?

We all know that sodas are full of sugar, buy you may be surprised (and grossed out) to find that a chemical called brominated vegetable oil (BVO), a patented flame retardant, has also been added to  approximately 10% of sodas for decades in North America.  No need to worry about your soda catching on fire!

You might think that the health effects of an ingredient that’s used in a common food would be well studied. In the case of BVOs, that’s not so. There are remarkably few published research studies.  But what do those few studies tell us about BVO’s health effects? Reduced fertility, behavioral problems and transfer in breast milk from moms to babies. Enough that I don’t want to be drinking these chemicals!

There have also been a few cases of people needing medical attention after soda binges for skin lesions, memory loss and nerve disorders which are all documented symptoms of overexposure to bromine. BVO’s are even more problematic for children (who have lower body mass) and for teens—groups with the highest soda consumption.

Environmental Health News (EHN) reported that BVOs are found mostly in citrus flavored sodas and beverages to keep the fruit flavoring suspended in the drink; that is why the drink looks “cloudy.” Drinks containing BVOs include:

  • Mountain Dew
  • Squirt
  • Fanta Orange
  • Sunkist Pineapple
  • Gatorade Thirst Quencher Orange
  • Powerade Strawberry Lemonade
  • Fresca Original Citrus

We also found one report noting that BVOs may also be found in some ice creams, baked goods and even in some brands of pasta. Check the labels!

In yet another example of how Europe is often ahead of the United States in protecting consumers from nasty chemicals, BVOs are banned in foods throughout Europe and Japan. “Amazingly,” manufacturers who produce for these countries (including major food makers who produce the same foods for Americans) have found safer, natural alternatives to BVO’s.

A spokesperson for the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group told EHN that hydrocolloids “do not provide the same functionality and cannot be substituted for one another.” If this is true, it would be interesting to hear what they are using in their sodas since BVOs are banned in Europe.  If Europe is using a safer alternative, why can’t North America?

What can I do about this?

  • Avoid fruit flavored sodas and beverage and read the labels (BVOs are usually towards the bottom of the list). If the drink is “cloudy”, avoid it.
  • Reduce your intake of soda overall—sodas are linked to diabetes and obesity which are most definitely significant health risks.
  • Take action and tell the Beverage companies we don’t want brominated vegetable oils in our sodas. Tell them “If you can do it for the EU and Japan you can do it for us.”