In the Really Good Timing department, our story on January 21st reported that Johnson and Johnson was removing traces of the formaldehyde preservative from its baby shampoo for absolutely no scientific or health-based reason.
At that time, ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom noted, In the end it doesn t really matter, because chemical Y will eventually be replaced by chemical Z, and the scientific extortion process will start again.
Almost as if on cue, chemical Z hit the news today. The Chemical Z du jour is called 4-methylimidazole (4-MeI), and is part of the caramel coloring that give sodas (especially colas) their color.
This chemical has been in the news many times before. It has been (re)cycled more times than a hamster wheel, but that didn t stop Consumer Reports from issuing a completely baseless cancer scare.
In their report, they claim that In California, any food or drinks sold in state containing more than 29 micrograms of 4-MeI is supposed to carry a health warning label. However, the study found all samples of PepsiOne and Malta Goya surpassed the legal amount of 4-Mel and the products tested from California were not labeled with a warning.
Oh dear. We are in real trouble, right?
Let s examine 4-MeI a bit. First, it is considered to be safe by the FDA and multiple corresponding agencies in other countries. And well it should be. It certainly is no threat at the quantities present in soda.
Toxicology data in rats shows that a lethal dose is roughly 250 milligrams about one-thousandth the weight of the entire rat. Although cross-species toxicology data should be regarded an imperfect guide rather than an absolute number, if the same toxicity data hold true for humans, the lethal dose would be something like 75 grams (2.6 ounces) more than 240 million times the 29 micrograms that Consumer Reports is worried about. Hope you re thirsty.
But, what about carcinogenicity? Could these tiny amounts cause cancer?
OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) classifies 4-MeI as non-carcinogenic: No component of this product present at levels greater than or equal to 0.1% is identified as a carcinogen or potential carcinogen by OSHA.
So do American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), and the NIHs National Toxicology Program (NCP).
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) hedges its bets and classifies 4-MeI as a Group 2B carcinogen: Possibly carcinogenic to humans the lowest category other than does not.
If this doesn t scare you (and it certainly shouldn t) and you are in the mood for some irony, Dr. Bloom provides it: It should be pretty clear than there is nothing to worry about here. But wait it gets better.
He continues, Much of this scare comes from a 2007 study by the National Toxicology Program, where they found that very high doses of 4-MeI appeared to be carcinogenic in rodents. But the same study showed significant decreases in a number of tumor types in the same animals, including a 25-fold decrease in mammary tumors in female rats. Does anything in here make sense? Please.
Both science and common sense dictate that 4-MeI doesn t cause or prevent cancer. This is the take home message. The rest is just propaganda.
If the silliness of this issue doesn t tickle your funny bone, perhaps the bubbles from your cola will tickle your nose. Drink up.