Earlier this month, I wrote about ingredients banned in other countries that aren’t banned in the U.S. One of those ingredients is brominated vegetable oil. BVO is a chemical that’s used as a flame retardant. It’s banned in more than 100 countries including Japan and the EU. Hypothyroidism, autoimmune disease, cancer, organ system damage, birth defects, growth problems, schizophrenia, and hearing loss are all associated with the intake of brominated vegetable oil, says nutritionist Mira Calton.

It’s an ingredient that’s often found in citrus-flavored soft drinks and sports drinks as an emulsifier so the flavoring doesn’t separate from the rest of the drink. BVO is still a legal ingredient in the U.S., but PepsiCo Inc, makers of Gatorade, are removing it from any of its sports drinks that contain the controversial ingredient.

Reuters reports that a Gatorade spokeswoman says the change had been in the works for some time, and isn’t a direct response to a petition that was started on Change.org last year by 15-year-old Sarah Kavanagh. Her petition, which received coverage in The New York Times last December, received more than 200,000 signatures.

After Googling “brominated vegetable oil” because she saw it as an ingredient in her orange Gatorade, Kavanagh said it was the last time she’d drink one unless the ingredient was removed. She was confused as to why the company would put an ingredient that’s used as a flame retardant in a drink that was made for people like her who are into “sports and health.” Her petition specifically asked Gatorade to remove the chemical from their products.

Even though Gatorade says the removal of the ingredient wasn’t due to her petition, Kavanagh is claiming victory on Change.org and praising the company for its actions.

Thank you all for your support. When I went to Change.org to start my petition, I thought it might get a lot of support because no one wants to gulp down flame retardant, especially from a drink they associate with being healthy. But with Gatorade being as big as they are, sometimes it was hard to know if we'd ever win. This is so, so awesome. Companies like Gatorade put so much thought into marketing. As someone who loves to drink their products, I'm so glad they're making strides to put as much consideration into their customers' health.
The New York Times is saying that Gatorade made the announcement about the change because of the petition, even if the petition itself did not cause the change. Normally, it would not have been announced because the company doesn’t “find a “health and safety risk with B.V.O.”

Whether the petition caused the change or it simply made the company realize that announcing the change would be a good PR move is something I don't know. My gut says the petition had something to do with it, and I’m always happy when a company listens to consumer input and makes positive changes instead of waiting for the government to force them to make changes. So good for PepsiCo and Gatorade.

Brominated vegetable oil is still in the citrus-flavored soft drinks and sports drinks from many other companies. I would not be surprised if those other companies didn’t follow suit and change their formulas in the near future, now that consumers are aware of the controversy surrounding BVO and making their wishes known.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Did Gatorade customers succeed in getting formula changed?
Brominated vegetable oil is being removed from Gatorade products on the heels of a consumer petition that received over 200,000 signatures.