How cola can boost your cancer risk

I don't think there's any such thing as a "safe" level of a known carcinogen, but here in California the safe upper limit for the chemical 4-methylimidazole is set at 30 mcg.

Why is that important? Because if you don't live in California, you could be getting up to five times that limit every time you pop open a can of soda.

The chemical, also known as 4-MI, is hidden in the caramel color used to give cola its distinctive look. But "caramel color" isn't extracted from candy. It's a byproduct of mixing sugar with ammonia under pressure.

When tests found high levels of the stuff in soda, manufacturers were told they'd have to put a cancer warning on each can sold in California, as required under state law.

So they quickly changed the formula, and a new set of tests found just 4mcg of 4-MI in cans of Coke sold in the state.

Who says warning labels don't work?

But while many soda makers have said they'll work to lower levels of 4-MI everywhere else, the same tests found they haven't delivered on that promise as of yet.

Coke sold elsewhere in the United States as well as in Canada and Britain, for example, contained between 144 and 160 mcg of MI-4. And in Brazil, they found 267 mcg -- or almost nine times California's safe upper limit, according to tests conducted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The CSPI called the results "alarming" and I have to agree. But even if the soda companies managed to do away with 4-MI altogether, the drinks wouldn't exactly be health food.

Soda is a chemical blend of sugars and/or artificial sweeteners along with coloring agents, acids, and a host of other ingredients you don't want to drink. The cans even contain BPA, a hormone-like chemical linked to diabetes, obesity, sexual problems, developmental issues, and more.

It shouldn't take a warning label to keep you away from all that.