Five different toxins were found in soft drinks manufactured by PepsiCo and Coca Cola, according to a government-commissioned study. Antimony, lead, chromium, cadmium and the compound DEHP or Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate seeped into the drinks from the polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, bottles that contained them, the study conducted on the instructions of a Health Ministry body found, The Indian Express reported on Thursday.
Samples of Pepsi, Coca Cola, Mountain Dew, Sprite and 7Up were tested for the study commissioned by the Drugs Technical Advisory Board of India. It was conducted by the Kolkata-based All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health between February and March 2016. While PepsiCo manufactures Mountain Dew and 7Up, Sprite is owned by Coca Cola.
The study also revealed a significant increase in leaching with rise in room temperature. Its findings were submitted to Jagdish Prasad, the director general of health services and chairman of DTAB, a few days ago. While Prasad did not respond to queries sent in by The Indian Express, both PepsiCo and Coca Cola said they had not received any notice regarding the test.
A spokesperson for PepsiCo India said, "We have received no intimation nor a copy of the cited test reports, and without an understanding of the methodology used, we would be unable to comment on the reports." The company said all their products conform to Food Safety and Standards Regulations.
A statement from Coca Cola said, "All our products...are absolutely safe and well within the safety norms prescribed...by Indian regulatory bodies. The PET packaging is safely used across the world in similar and more extreme weather conditions without any food safety issue." It added that they had learnt about the subject through the newspaper report.
The tests found 0.029 mg of antimony per litre, 0.011 mg of lead per litre, 0.002 mg of cadmium per litre, 0.017 mg of chromium per litre and 0.028 mg of DEHP per litre in PepsiCo's PET bottles. It found 0.006 mg of antimony, 0.009 mg of lead, 0.011 mg of cadmium, 0.026 mg of chromium and 0.026 mg of DEHP per litre in Coca Cola's PET bottles.
The World Health Organisation classifies lead and cadmium as one of the top ten chemicals of "major public health concern". "At high levels of exposure, lead attacks the brain and central nervous system to cause coma, convulsions and even death. Children who survive severe lead poisoning may be left with mental retardation and behavioural disorders," according to WHO. It also noted that cadmium has toxic effects on the kidney as well as skeletal and respiratory systems. It is classified as a carcinogen.
In April 2015, the Kolkata-based institute was given the task of examining leaching of toxins from PET bottles used for packaging medicines, cold drinks, alcohol and juices. Pharmaceutical products were the focus of the first phase of the study, and the findings were submitted in August 2015.
However, a committee formed by the Health Ministry to look into the study said it had various loopholes and that its findings did not serve as concrete proof to conclude that PET bottles contaminated medicines. The DTAB, however, struck down the committee's suggestions and asked the ministry to issue a notification to prohibit packaging of medicines consumed by children, women and the elderly in PET bottles.