The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the removal of saccharin from its hazardous substances list. The EPA stated the popular sweetener is no longer considered a potential hazard to human health. Cleared in the late 1990s by the National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, saccharin remained on the hazardous substances list until a request for its removal was made from the Calorie Control Council.
Saccharin is most well known as the white crystalline powder used to sweeten diet soft drinks, chewing gum, juice, and toothpaste. Commercially, saccharin can be found in acid form known as saccharin or in salt form known as sodium saccharin or calcium saccharin. First synthesized in 1879, the sweetener known to be roughly 300 times sweeter than sucrose or sugar, became widely popular across the U.S. during the 1940s and 1950s. The world’s oldest artificial sweetener allowed people to enjoy sweets in a low-calorie or sugar free form.
Discovered by John Hopkins University researchers, saccharin was first enjoyed by diabetics. Saccharin allowed the diabetic person to sweeten his or her food without worrying about the glucose (or calories) found in sugar. Saccharin became so popular, the president of the time, President Theodore Roosevelt, formed the Remsen Board of Consulting Scientific Experts. The Remsen Board continually reviewed charges of safety issues associated with the sweetener. President Roosevelt was personally involved in regulatory saccharin activity and opposed any attempts of stopping production.
Though popular, saccharin use was limited until the onset of World War I and World War II. Food rationing made alternative food substitutes necessary. Rationings included sugar limitations in both the U.S. and across Europe. With sugar availability limited, households turned to saccharin. After World War I and World War II, saccharin continued to increase in popularity as people’s interest in weight issues increased. Its low cost, low-calorie, and sugar free availability made saccharin a leader in sugar alternatives. However, in the 1970s and 1980s health concerns increased as studies linked large quantities of saccharin use to carcinogens.
The EPA listed saccharin as a potential cancer causing agent based on controversial 1970s rat experiments. The experiments found high doses of sodium saccharin caused bladder cancer / tumors in male rats. Based on the research findings, the United States Congress mandated all foods with saccharin must provide a warning on the label. The Saccharin Study and Labeling Act of 1977 went into affect strengthening the need for warnings on all food products with saccharin.
Of all food ingredients, saccharin is the most researched. Continued analysis from international scientists found “saccharin administered to the rat at high doses produces profound biochemical and physiological changes which do not occur in humans under normal patterns of use.” Further research determined the sweetener is indeed an unlikely cause for human cancer. Reviews of the rat experiments suggests rat’s have a unique combination of urine pH and sodium levels, protein types and concentrations, and diet. The combination of chemistry levels are not found in humans. Scientists, government, and industry are currently in agreement with the safety of saccharin use.
In December 2000, President Clinton signed legislation removing the need for warning labels on saccharin products. That same year, the National Toxicology Program removed saccharin from its list of known carcinogens. Despite saccharin being delisted on other hazardous product listing, saccharin continued to appear on EPA’s list. The Calorie Control Council, an international food trade association representing low-calorie food industry, petitioned EPA to delist saccharin. In April 2010, “EPA proposed removing saccharin and its salts from the hazards’ list.” With no opposition, saccharin was removed.