Why A Common Carcinogenic Chemical Caused California To Bubble Over


Sipping a soda could give you more than just a refreshing fizz. That’s because more than a year after Pepsi promised to deal with a potential carcinogen in its soda products, independent tests discovered that the dangerous contaminant still resides in many Pepsi products.

The compound, called 4-methylimidazole, or 4- MEI, has been found in connection with cancer, and is found in the artificial caramel food coloring seen in the soda, a direct byproduct of caramel made with ammonium compounds, acids, or even alkalis. Though the chemical has already been taken out of Pepsi products in California, which has stricter laws on chemicals found in sodas and pushed soda manufacturers to, at the very least, begin including a warning label on its cans, recent tests given by the Center for Environmental Health discovered certain Pepsi products from outside of California still carry dangerous amounts of 4- MEI.

Fortunately, there might be a way out. In 2012, the state placed ammonia-caramel coloring as a carcinogen under its Proposition 65 law. Now, soda filled with more than 29 micrograms of 4- MEI in the state must have a warning label saying so.

In other areas of California, though, there weren’t laws that protected soda sippers. But after the Center for Food Safety found certain Coke and Pepsi products carrying up to a shocking 150 micrograms of the dangerous chemical in just one can of soda, both corporations promised to decrease the amount found in their products across the nation. The Center for Environmental Health indicates Coke kept its promise, but Pepsi failed to do so thus far.

“This shows how California’s Proposition 65 law can make products safer for all Californians, and in some cases for all Americas,” says Michael Green, executive director of CEH. “We applaud Coke for taking this health protective action for consumers nationwide. Pepsi’s delay is inexplicable. We urge the company to take swift action to provide all Americans with the same safer product they’re selling in California.”

Ammonia caramel food coloring can be spotted in many other food products, too, such as Worcestershire and soy sauces. It’s oftentimes used to darken breads, beer, gravy, and even meat, the Center for Science in the Public Interest proclaims.


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Used under Creative Commons Licensing courtesy of Mike Mozart

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