By Weiss, Rick
Science News , Vol. 132, No. 25-26
Water, water everywhere, but . . .
Two new reports released within a week of each other have left some consumers feeling a bit parched. Connoisseurs of bourbons, sherries and fruit brandies were treated to the news that many of their favorite brands contain dangerously high levels of urethane, a potent carcinogen. Meanwhile, testimony before members of Congress revealed that many of the drinking fountains in the United States are spouting water that is contaminated with lead.
The report on tainted alcohol, released last week, lists urethane levels in more than 1,000 alcoholic beverages as determined by government and beverage industry laboratories. The data were compiled and released by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington, D.C.-based consumer group that obtained the test results through the federal Freedom of Information Act.
"Unlike some of the chemical controversies of the past, such as DDT and saccharine, there is no disputing the fact that urethane is a carcinogen,' says Michael Jacobson, the group's executive director. However, he says, while Canada established two years ago strict limits on urethane levels in alcoholic beverages, ranging up to 400 parts per billion (ppb), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) "has neither set limits nor recalled products from the marketplace.'
Part of the problem, say beverage producers and federal regulators, is that urethane is a natural by-product of the fermentation process; none is intentionally added in the production process. Tiny amounts of it are present in such commonly consumed foods as bread and yogurt. According to Emil Corwin, a press officer with the FDA, the agency "has been meeting with key [beverage] industry groups in an effort to find production methods that will reduce urethane levels in alcoholic beverages. But we still need to figure out how it's produced and how to reduce it.'
The new report shows that most beers, with the notable exception of Foster's (Australia) and Golden Dragon (China), contain extremely low or undetectable levels of urethane. …