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Sparkling Water: Pesticide Panic?

Photo by: Escritor Anónimo

Years ago, I had a diet soda addiction. During that time, I received countless articles from parents, grandparents, and siblings to stop drinking that “poison.” After the hundredth shared or retweeted social media post, I relented, cutting my consumption by quite a lot. Luckily, around that time flavored sparkling water became popular. Sporting no artificial sugars or added salt, I felt that I could give in to my vice of carbonated drinks—without the digital peanut gallery shaming me. Of course, that was before a famous sparkling water company was in the news for allegedly putting “pesticide” into their drinks.

I will not get into the specifics of the class action lawsuit in question, but suffice to say the legal argument hinged on whether certain flavors used in the beverage are natural or synthetic. The law firm that brought the lawsuit named other compounds, but one that caught my eye was linalool. The wording in the complaint linked linalool to “cockroach insecticide”. An outside observer reading the lawsuit could be confused into thinking that linalool was a dangerous additive. However, while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules regarding natural or synthetic flavor is indeed confusing, the toxicity of linalool is not.

While the FDA considers linalool an artificial flavor legally, in reality this chemical is present in many plants and everyday items you use. Lavender and basil plants have significant quantities of linalool, as do their many of their mint family (Lamiaceae) relatives. Ever splurge and buy a few scented body washes or lotions? Chances are good that linalool made the company’s ingredient list. Linalool is also abundant in the hemp family (Cannabaceae)—that citrusy, floral aroma of your favorite hoppy beer? Linalool is partially responsible for those potent smells and can be a helpful indicator for professional brewers looking for a unique profile.

Why do plants produce linalool in the wild? Scientists are uncertain, but linalool’s floral scent may attract certain pollinators while linalool’s pesticide chemistry may harm insects that decide to feed on the vegetation. The exact method by which linalool kills insects is not fully understood, but it is thought to act on the pest’s nervous system, disrupting normal muscle movement. Other studies suggest linalool may also affect the growth and development of other insects, including cockroaches.

If linalool kills insects, how toxic is linalool to humans? Fortunately, linalool is on the lower scale of danger. To have a 50/50 chance of dying, you would have to consume more than 3 grams linalool per kilo of body weight. Due to the odor of pure linalool, the amount in drinks are far too small to be a danger. Imagine pouring a large cup of aromatherapy oil and drinking it straight several times, not an easy way to poison yourself! If that 3 grams per kilo number still sounds dangerous, consider that table salt shares that same toxicity. Remember wisdom from over 450 years ago by Paracelsus, an early chemist (or alchemist) from the Renaissance: “All things are poison, and nothing is without poison.”

It is important to remember your everyday life (including actually “living”) consists of chemicals. True, many of these natural flavors you consume everyday are produced in a laboratory, but the elements and compounds are the same in a basil leaf as they are in sparkling water. Do research from trusted sources rather than clickbait articles on social media. The same people who may fret over linalool being in water may not think twice about brushing their teeth with neem oil toothpaste, possibly a more effective insecticide than linalool.

Works Cited:


Bickers, D., et al. "A toxicologic and dermatologic assessment of linalool and related esters when used as fragrance ingredients." Food and Chemical Toxicology 41.7 (2003): 919-942.

El-Sayed, A. M., et al. "Floral scent of Canada thistle and its potential as a generic insect attractant." Journal of economic entomology 101.3 (2008): 720-727.

Extension Toxicology Network. “Cholinesterase Inhibition”. Cornell Cooperative Extension. (1993).

Grandjean, Philippe. "Paracelsus revisited: the dose concept in a complex world." Basic & clinical pharmacology & toxicology 119.2 (2016): 126-132.

Karr, L. L., and J. R. Coats. "Effects of four monoterpenoids on growth and reproduction of the German cockroach (Blattodea: Blattellidae)." Journal of economic entomology 85.2 (1992): 424-429.

Kishimoto, Toru, et al. "Analysis of hop-derived terpenoids in beer and evaluation of their behavior using the stir bar− sorptive extraction method with GC-MS." Journal of agricultural and food chemistry 53.12 (2005): 4701-4707.

National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Database; CID=6549, (accessed Oct. 8, 2018).