In response to customer complaints, PepsiCo Inc. will remove a controversial chemical added to orange Gatorade. Outcry over the chemical, known as brominated vegetable oil, or BVO, had been building over the past year. Patented as a flame retardant, BVO is used as an emulsifier in fruit-flavored drinks and has been linked to a number of health hazards.
Environmental Health News reported on BVO last year, and the story inspired a Hattiesburg, Miss., teenager, Sarah Kavanagh, to petition PepsiCo to remove the chemical. Kavanagh found the story after searching for information on an ingredient she saw on a Gatorade label. What she read inspired her to start a petition on Change.org calling for the removal of BVO from PepsiCo's products. The petition gathered nearly 200,000 signatures from around the world.
The news that PepsiCo was removing the chemical from Gatorade was reported last Friday in Beverage Digest, though a spokesperson for PepsiCo told the Associated Press that its decision had been in the works for the past year and was not in response to the recent petition. And as the FDA allows low doses of the chemical—15 parts per million—in fruit-flavored beverages, its decision was also not based on any health concerns, according to PepsiCo's spokesperson. The chemical won't be removed from other citrus-flavored sodas made by PepsiCo, such as Mountain Dew.
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 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than 30 years later, BVO's status is still listed as interim, despite concerns from scientists that the research is outdated and insufficient.
Meanwhile, BVO could be building up in human tissue. In studies with rats, large doses caused reproductive and behavioral problems. And 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.
Kavanagh said she got the news about PepsiCo's decision from a voicemail during her algebra class. She asked her teacher to be excused to go the restroom. "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."