PepsiCo drops brominated chemical from Gatorade

By Brett Israel
Staff Writer
Environmental Health News

Jan. 25, 2013

PepsiCo Inc. will remove a controversial chemical that is added to orange Gatorade in response to customer complaints.


Outcry over the chemical, known as brominated vegetable oil, or BVO, had been building over the past year. BVO has been patented as a flame retardant, and it has been linked to a number of health hazards.

Environmental Health News reported on the chemical last year, and the story inspired a Mississippi teenager to petition PepsiCo to remove BVO.

Beverage Digest first reported the news on Friday, and a spokesperson for PepsiCo told the Associated Press the decision to remove BVO had been in the works for the past year and was not in response to the recent petition.

The spokesperson told AP that BVO will only be removed from Gatorade, and not other citrus-flavored sodas made by PepsiCo, such as Mountain Dew.

The company said its decision was not based on any health or safety concerns, since the Food and Drug Administration allows low doses of the chemical in beverages.

PepsiCo did not return calls from EHN seeking comment. The company will reportedly replace BVO with a chemical called sucrose acetate isobutyrate in Gatorade.

BVO, used as an emulsifier only in citrus-based drinks, is also in Mountain Dew, Squirt, Fanta Orange, Sunkist Pineapple, Powerade Strawberry Lemonade and Fresca Original Citrus. The most popular sodas – Coca-Cola and Pepsi – do not contain BVO.

In November, Sarah Kavanagh, a 15-year-old high school student from Hattiesburg, Miss., read an article by Environmental Health News about the potential health threats of BVO. Kavanagh found the story after searching the web for information on an ingredient she saw on a Gatorade label. What she read inspired her to start a petition on calling for Gatorade's manufacturer, PepsiCo, to remove BVO from products. The petition gathered nearly 200,000 signatures from around the world in just a few months.

BVO was patented by chemical companies as a flame retardant and has been banned in food and beverages in Europe and Japan.Kavanagh said she got the news about PepsiCo's decision from a voicemail left for her during her algebra class today. She asked her teacher to be excused to go the restroom – and then called her mom.

"I was very, very excited," Kavanagh said. "I called my mom and I was like, 'Mom, we won!'"

Kavanagh said she's unsure about the next move in her fight against BVO, but she said "there will definitely be something coming up in the future."

BVO was patented by chemical companies as a flame retardant and has been banned in food and beverages in Europe and Japan. In 1970, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration conditionally approved the interim use of BVO in fruit-flavored soft drinks. More than 30 years later, BVO's status is still listed as interim, despite concerns from scientists that the research is outdated and insufficient.

The FDA limits the use of BVO to 15 parts per million in fruit-flavored beverages.

BVO could be building up in human tissues, just like other brominated compounds such as flame retardants. In mouse studies, big doses caused reproductive and behavioral problems. After extreme binges of sodas that contain BVO, a few patients have needed medical attention for skin lesions, memory loss and nerve disorders, all symptoms of overexposure to bromine.

Follow staff writer Brett Israel on Twitter: @btisrael.

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