The next time you take a spoonful of cough syrup, you may be taking more than you bargained for. According to a study conducted by the Health Ministry, popular cough syrups like Benadryl and Alex, and other medications in syrup form which are packaged in PET bottles are contaminated by significantly dangerous amounts of toxins.

Lead, antimony, phthalate and chromium are only some of the toxins which were found to have leached into the syrups from the polyethylene terephthalate packaging.

Merck Biopharma’s Polybion Multivitamin Syrup, Alkem Labs’ Hemfer syrup and the antacid Mucaine Gel from Wyeth Laboratories were found to be contaminated with heavy metals and cadmium.

The study by the All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health (AIIH&PH) found that the leaching of antimony, DEHP and chromium increased with a rise in room temperature.

Reacting to the findings, pharmaceutical major Johnson & Johnson said “All Johnson & Johnson products, including Benadryl Cough Formula, undergo elaborate stability testing programmes to ensure no abnormal chemicals are generated or migrated into the product. This is done with validated test methodologies at development stage as well as through our post-marketing surveillance programme. The PET (plastic) bottles themselves are selected after rigorous evaluation to conform to international pharmacopeia standards, wherein it is verified that no hazardous chemical is extracted (migrated) into the bottle through prescribed methods.”

Alkem Labs and Glenmark Pharma, which makes and markets Alex cough syrup, both reiterated that their products and packaging conformed to safety standards. Referring to the findings on Mucaine Gel, Pfizer, of which Wyeth Laboratories is a subsidiary, said it was not aware of the study, and also denied receiving any communication from regulatory authorities in this regard. It however vouched for the safety, quality and efficacy of the medication.

The Drugs Technical Advisory Board (DTAB) has accepted the results of the study and recommended a ban on PET packaging for any liquid oral formulations having “pediatric use, geriatric use, use by pregnant women and use by any women of the reproductive age group.”


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