Pepsi and Coke Remove Harmful Substance from Sports Drinks after Teenager’s Online Campaign

Friday, May 09, 2014
Sarah Kavanagh (photo:

The largest soft drink manufacturers in the U.S. have dumped a controversial ingredient from their sports drinks following a grassroots campaign launched by a 17-year-old.


Sarah Kavanagh of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, discovered two years ago that orange Gatorade, made by PepsiCo, contained the additive brominated vegetable oil (BVO). Puzzled by what she read on the drink label, Kavanagh did some Internet research and found the ingredient keeps Gatorade’s fruit flavoring from separating.


She also discovered that BVO functioned as a flame retardant—a diametrical functionality reminiscent of the classic Saturday Night Live sketch Shimmer Floor Wax (“it’s a floor wax … no, it’s a dessert topping!”)


The Food and Drug Administration originally approved BVO as “safe,” then later reversing itself, and it has been banned in several other countries. Medical reports showed that consuming too much of the additive created serious health problems, like swollen hands, oozing pores, and loss of the ability to walk.


Aghast by this information, Kavanagh decided to launch a signature campaign on asking PepsiCo to drop the ingredient. The effort collected more than 200,000 signatures.


Her campaign garnered national media attention, after which PepsiCo announced it was dumping brominated vegetable oil from Gatorade in favor of sucrose acetate isobutyrate (pdf), which is widely used around the world. (The company has kept BVO in two of its other drinks—Amp and Mountain Dew.)


Then, it was on to Coca-Cola, maker of Powerade, which also contained BVO.


This week, Coca-Cola caved as well, announcing it would replace BVO with either sucrose acetate isobutyrate or glycerol ester of rosin (used in chewing gum).


Neither company, though, is willing to credit Kavanagh’s campaign for making its decision.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Teen Scores Another Victory Against Soft-Drink Makers (by Tara McKelvey, BBC)

Chemical Shaming? Coke Removes Ingredient from Powerade after Teen’s On-Line Petition (by Lenny Bernstein, Washington Post)

Brominated Battle: Soda Chemical Has Cloudy Health History (by Brett Israel, Environmental Health News)


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