ATLANTA — The Coca-Cola Co. has agreed to offer replacements to people who purchased two soft drinks to settle lawsuits over ingredients that can form cancer-causing benzene, the plaintiffs said Monday.
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As part of the settlement in the cases in New Jersey, Kansas and Florida, the world’s largest beverage maker agreed to offer replacement drinks to anyone who purchased Fanta Pineapple or Vault Zero before September 2006, according to a copy of the agreement.
Coca-Cola previously decided to voluntarily reformulate the two beverages in question, said Ray Crockett, a spokesman for the soft drink maker.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs agreed to dismiss their claims against Coca-Cola, Crockett said. Other soft-drink makers, including Purchase, N.Y.-based PepsiCo Inc., remain defendants in related lawsuits.
“We’ve basically done the settlement as an expeditious way to get the issue behind us,” Crockett said.
He said the reformulated products are currently making their way to the marketplace. The settlement agreement says the reformulated products have a label with a best-before date of January 2008 or later.
Coca-Cola also agreed as part of the settlement to pay $500 to each of four plaintiffs and to pay the plaintiffs’ attorneys an amount to cover their fees an expenses that is subject to an arbitrator’s determination.
The lawsuits alleged that ingredients in Fanta Pineapple and Vault Zero had the potential in certain circumstances to combine to form benzene, and asserted claims for breach of warranty, unfair and deceptive trade practices and unjust enrichment.
According to the settlement agreement, Coca-Cola continues to deny all of the allegations in the lawsuits.
The plaintiffs and their lawyers said in a statement that they are pleased with the settlement.
“We filed these lawsuits because our children shouldn’t be exposed to benzene at any level,” said Lisbeth Gordon of Crawfordville, Fla., an emergency room nursing supervisor and mother who was one of plaintiffs.
Coca-Cola began production of Vault Zero in February 2006 and has sold roughly 7.7 million individual units from that time through December 2006. From January 2003 through August 2006, it sold roughly 27.4 million individual units of Fanta Pineapple, according to the settlement papers.
It changed the formulation of the two products on or about Sept. 1, 2006, the settlement papers say.
Benzene can form in soft drinks containing vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, and either sodium benzoate or potassium benzoate. Scientists say factors such as heat or light exposure can trigger a reaction that forms benzene in the beverages.
Coca-Cola will no longer sell the two products in question with both sodium benzoate and ascorbic acid as ingredients.
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