PetroFood on Your Plate
After the Gulf Oil Spill, many health-conscious people were concerned about
possible petrocontamination in sea food from the area. The irony is that
they have likely been exposed for decades to much higher levels in everyday food
and beverage products completely unawares. Yes, petrofood has long been
served up to anyone in an industrialized part of the world and here are just a
few toxic examples:
1) BHT. Here's
all you need to know about BHT, which is used extensively as
a food preservative: "BHT is "Butylated hydroxyToluene (BHT) is a mixture of two
isomeric organic compounds, 2-tert-butyl-4-hydroxyanisole and
3-tert-butyl-4-hydroxyToluene. It is prepared from 4-methoxyphenol and
isobutylene". Now what person in their right mind would want that
added into their food and yet BHT is in just about every processed food that has
fats or oils in it. BHT is carcinogenic and hard on many tissues  and,
for the life of me, I can't think of any good reason to add it into someone's
plate like it was some kind of seasoning.
2) Benzene. This petroleum derivative is nearly ubiquitious in our
environment and has now made it into many packaged products and even some
non-packaged foods such as butter, eggs, meat and some fruits. .
According to the FDA, it has also made its way into many beverages as well. 
So what's a little benzene among friends? Unfortunately, benzene is nasty
stuff and it along with its sister petroleum products toluene and xylene have
been linked to cancer.  No wonder the EPA has set the allowable amount
in drinking water at just 5 ppm.
3) Toluene and Xylene. These bad boys are both paint solvents and not
really something you want to be ingesting on a daily basis. As mentioned
above, these have also been linked to cancer  and toluene has an even lower
level, 1 ppm, threshold set in drinking water than benzen. Many bottled
waters exceed this level and it is found in many foods at questionable levels as
well. Xylene is a well-known neurotoxin at high enough doses. 
4) Hexane. This petrochemical is in gasoline and is used in oil refining
and degreasing applications. Perfect for your plate, right?
Apparently so as it is used extensively in grain processing. Hexane made
the news recently as some soy products were found to have levels as high as 21
ppm.  Again, who eats more soy, tofu, miso and so on than the health
conscious? Many of them did not realize they were gobbling down something
that is a proven neurotoxin even at relatively small dosages. 
5) TBHQ. This petroleum derivative has certain antioxidant properties and
antioxidants are always good, right? Well, no one really knows for
sure, so let's just throw it in our food supply - that's what the captains of
industry decided for us decades ago. However, TBHQ likely takes up
glutathione  and affects protasglandin synthesis.  "It's not wise to mess
with Mother Nature", I always say.
2) J AOAC Int, 1993 Nov-Dec, 76(6):1213-9, "Survey of benzene in foods by using
headspace concentration techniques and capillary gas chromatography"
4) FDA Release, Data through May 16, 2007, "Data on Benzene in Soft Drinks and
5) Epidemiology, Sep 2006, 17(5):552-561, "Occupational Exposure to Solvents and
the Risk of Lymphomas"
6) JOMFP, 2010, 14(1):1-5, "Xylene: An overview of its health hazards and
7) Eating Well, Sep/Oct 2010, p. 16.
8) Br J Ind Med, 1981, 38:14-19, " An experimental study on the combined effects
of n-hexane and toluene on the peripheral nerve of the rat"
Tert-BUTYLHYDROQUINONE (TBHQ), First draft prepared by Ms Elizabeth Vavasour
Toxicological Evaluation Division, Bureau of Chemical Safety Food Directorate,
Health Protection Branch, Health Canada Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
10) Journal of Food Science, Sep 1977, 42(5):1243-1246, "EFFECTS OF FOOD
ANTIOXIDANTS ON PROSTAGLANDIN BIOSYNTHESIS"