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Buying Lies: Unsafe Chemicals in Baby bottles

Investigation: Rahmah Dia’a

04/02/2021

Baby bottles containing harmful substances are sold in pharmacies across Egypt



Egyptian mothers trust well-known brands that label their baby bottles “BPA free”, but Cairo University’s Micro Analysis Center detects varying percentages of the toxic substance

I anticipated the birth of my child with excitement. I was fully prepared, and made sure I bought the best quality of everything she would need. After some research and consultation, I bought an imported baby bottle labelled “BPA [Bisphenol A] free”. Although it cost five times the price of other baby bottles, I bought the lie that promised a product free from the harmful industrial chemical.

I stood in the pharmacy, eyeing the shelves where the plastic baby bottles were stacked, and glanced at the bottles labelled “BPA free”.

I had several concerns about the effect of BPA on my baby‘s health. After a quick Internet search, I found warnings about the dangers of this substance to human health in general, and to infants in particular. Since, I have dug deeper into BPA and its effects.

This investigation documents the commercial fraud of how major brands of plastic baby bottles that do not comply with Egyptian specifications, containing varying percentages of the harmful BPA, are being sold despite the "BPA Free" label stamped on it. In addition to the health risk of this substance on infants, in 2011 the European Committee for Food Security banned the use of BPA in the production of baby bottles.

BPA is a chemical substance introduced into plastic manufacturing in the 60s. It is mostly used in the production of food and beverage containers as it gives strength, stiffness and the ability to withstand high temperatures.

The health risks of the infusion of this chemical substance from the plastic into the fluid inside the include endocrine disorders, infertility for men and women and precocious puberty, in addition to hormonal tumors such as breast and prostate cancer and metabolic disorders, according to studies conducted by researchers at the Polish Gdansk University and the Iranian Isfahan University.

The health risks of the infusion of this chemical substance from the plastic into the fluid inside the include endocrine disorders, infertility for men and women and precocious puberty, in addition to hormonal tumors such as breast and prostate cancer and metabolic disorders, according to studies conducted by researchers at the Polish Gdansk University and the Iranian Isfahan University.

Over two million children are born in Egypt every year, according to the Central Agency for Mobilization and Statistics. Over 2.3 million babies were born in 2018 and again in 2019.

Nowadays in Egypt, bottle feeding is preferred over breastfeeding. Hana Aboulghar, a professor of pediatrics at Cairo University, says that bottle feeding has become much more reliable than breastfeeding, noting that UNICEF estimates the percentage of breastfeeding in Egypt to be less than 30%.

She adds that one of the main reasons for the increase in baby bottle feeding is the premature decision mothers make to introduce synthetic milk to their new born baby, as they are unaware that breast milk begins to flow in abundance three to five days after breastfeeding begins. While it takes a few days for milk to be readily available on demand for your baby, synthetic milk on the other hand, is readily available in all pharmacies.

chart
rely on breastfeeding for children aged 4-5 months.
chart
rate of early start of breastfeeding in the first hour of labor.
chart
rely on formula feeding for children aged 4-5 months.
chart
rate of timely supplementary feeding from 6-9 months
Source: UNICEF

This growing reliance on artificial feeding bottles has led to an increase in the sale of containers for formula milk, used from the first day after birth. In 2016, the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics announced that on top of locally-manufactured baby bottles, Egypt purchases $176,000 worth of baby bottles annually.

Mothers also prefer plastic bottles over glass because, as Radwa Tantawi, an engineer and mother explains, they are unbreakable.

“I sometimes don’t even take notice of the “BPA free” labels”, she said, adding that she relies on well-known brands and automatically considers them to be safe.

The preference for plastic bottles is also shown in a survey of 120 women conducted by the ARIJ reporter, which found that 62.9% prefer plastic bottles over glass as they do not break, are more practical and are lighter to hold.

BPA, used in manufacturing plastic baby bottles, has various health effects including tumors of the prostate and mammary glands, and immune system disorders. It has also been shown to disrupt the functioning of glands and the secretion of hormones. Muhammad Jamal, a researcher at the Regional Center for Food at the Agricultural Research Center, adds that “the use of plastic baby bottles can cause sterility in the long term.”

Effects on Infants

Three-year-old children are most affected by BPA exposure, according to Randa Hassan, a researcher at the Regional Food Center. She says that infants at this age have not yet formed "Glucuronidases", an enzyme which helps combine the substance with other compounds for its excretion, without causing any health damages.

Hassan published a study in December 2018 on BPA in baby bottles and its effect on temperature and times of use. Through experimentation on mice, she showed that the level of BPA toxicity takes a U shape, meaning that “a concentration of 50 micrograms, for example, has the same effect as 1000 micrograms" on the human and animal body.

The study also showed that BPA infuses with liquids quicker at higher temperatures, and that BPA levels increase more in milk compared to water and anise.

baby
Choose the temperature and feeding frequency to find out the concertration of the harmful substance dissolved
Concentration of harmful substance
67.61
ugm/ml
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Breastfeeding
Concentration of harmful substance
132.54
ugm/ml
dots
Breastfeeding
Concentration of harmful substance
471.32
ugm/ml
dots
Breastfeeding
Concentration of harmful substance
161.94
ugm/ml
dots
Breastfeeding
Concentration of harmful substance
265.70
ugm/ml
dots
Breastfeeding
Concentration of harmful substance
883.53
ugm/ml
dots
Breastfeeding
Concentration of harmful substance
205.71
ugm/ml
dots
Breastfeeding
Concentration of harmful substance
524.85
ugm/ml
dots
Breastfeeding
Concentration of harmful substance
1046.79
ugm/ml
dots
Breastfeeding
The questionnaire revealed that:
chart 59%
of participants use lukewarm water when preparing the baby bottle
chart 41%
of other participants use hot water and wait for it to cool down
chart 37%
of participants use the same bottle for up to 3 months
chart 10%
of participants use the same bottle for up to 4 months
chart 24%
of participants use the same bottle for up to 6 months
chart 28%
of participants use the same bottle for more than 6 months

Experiment

After several visits to pharmacies across Cairo, the ARIJ reporter collected random samples of baby bottles from four different brands - selected according to those most used by mothers participating in the survey - to conduct a lab test on the ratio of BPA infusion with the liquids inside the bottle. The price of baby bottles ranged from 25 to 200 Egyptian pounds.

Researcher Sarah Ameen conducted the laboratory analysis to estimate the concentration of BPA. On August 18, 2019, we received the test result of the Center for Microanalysis at Cairo University which showed increased BPA levels that do not meet the Egyptian standard regarding chemical requirements and tests for baby feeding bottles.

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Bob toon

Bob toon

Substance concentration : 0.681
Place/ distributor : Izbat an Nakhl pharmacy
Volume: 250

ALG

ALG

Substance concentration : 0.535
Place/ distributor : A pharmacy in Sayeda Zeinab area
Does not label BPA free
Volume: 240

chicco

chicco

Substance concentration : 0.446
Place/ distributor : Authorized distributor
Volume: 330 ml

Philips Avent

Philips Avent

Substance concentration : 0.719
Place/ distributor : Authorized distributor
Volume: 260

To ensure the accuracy of the initial results, a month later we collected six more random samples for testing. On November 11, 2019, the second laboratory analysis showed that the six samples also did not meet standards.

lovely

lovely

Substance concentration : 0.172
Place/ distributor : Al-Haleema AlJadeeda pharmacy
Volume: 280 ml

Saffari

Saffari

Substance concentration : 0.277
Place/ distributor : Izbat an Nakhl pharmacy
Volume: 250 ml

Rikange

rikang

Substance concentration : 0.329
Place/ distributor : Izbat an Nakhl pharmacy
Volume: 280 ml

Bubbles

Bubbles

Substance concentration : 0.916
Place/ distributor : Qasr Al-Ayni pharmacy Mrs. Zeinab - Garden City
Volume: 260 ml

Canpol babies

Canpol babies

Substance concentration : 0.756
Place/ distributor : Moneera pharmacy
Volume: 250 ml

NUk

NuK

Substance concentration : 0.569
Place/ distributor : Al-Isa’af pharmacy
Volume: 300 ml

The Children’s Health Department of the National Research Center conducted a series of studies as part of a three-year research project regarding the possible health effects of exposure to BPA. It found that the substance inhibits endocrine glands, and disrupts the functioning of the thyroid gland and the pancreas, confusing the infant’s body.

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The human body recognises BPA as a hormone, leading to the malfunctioning of various glands, according to Mai Youssef, a researcher in the Children’s Health Department at the National Research Center.

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A case study conducted by the National Research Center, showed an increase in the concentration of BPA in children’s urine, along with raised levels of glucose and insulin in the blood, increasing the risk of pre-diabetes, according to Ibtisam Salah, a researcher in the Children’s Health Department.

We approached five different manufacturers and importers of the samples used in the experiment, as well as manufacturers outside of Egypt, informing them of our findings and requesting comment.

On February 6, 2020, we received the first and only response from the company that manufactures "Nick" products in Egypt, who said that inquiries should be sent to the German manufacturer, who have, to date, not responded.

“Rikking” and “Pop Tone” did not carry any identifying data regarding the manufacturer nor the importer or any means of communication, in violation to the Egyptian Standard No. 7595 of 2013, which requires products in the market to clarify the distributor address, the manufacturer or the importer.

From Outside

6 Imported samples were tested but did not meet specifications.

Before imported bottles are distributed to pharmacy shelves, they pass through a number of Egyptian authorities, starting with the Egyptian port’s customs, before heading to the Export and Import Control Authority for analysis, and to ensure that the shipment meets Egyptian standard specifications.

We confronted Ismail Jaber, the head of the Control Authority, regarding the investigation’s findings, but he refused to respond to our inquiries. We then sent a letter with acknowledgment of receipt to the Authority.

On August 18, 2020, the Authority responded stating that it takes samples from baby bottles imported from abroad, and sends them to testing according to the standard specifications. The authority indicated that from 2017 until July 2020, it did not reject any shipments of infant formula because they contained BPA, explaining that during that period 228 samples were presented to the authority, 223 of which met standards.

The authority added that not all of the bottles available in the market are imported from abroad, only the samples tested by the investigation yielded such results.

"The Authority is competent to control only those coming from abroad. There are other authorities responsible for the ones available in the market,” their response read.

Made in Egypt

2 Random samples of bottles made in Egypt were tested.

The Industrial Control Authority is responsible for following up on bottles manufactured in Egypt, inspecting factories and ensuring that the technical requirements for the safety of baby food packages are applied before they are distributed to pharmacies.

On July 16, 2020, we sent the Industrial Control Authority a letter with acknowledgment of receipt to inquire about its responsibility and how bottles violating standards enter the market, but did not receive a response.

Once these bottles are delivered to pharmacies they are not subjected to drug control laws, according to Mustafa Hassan, the Medicines Authority spokesperson, who said that bottles are not affiliated with or registered with the authority, therefore they are no longer the responsibility of the Pharmacist Inspection Department.

We received an official letter on August 31 from the Ministry of Health, saying that baby bottles are not classified internationally as a medical requirement, and are not subjected to registration in the Central Administration of Pharmacists Affairs and the National Institute of Nutrition

Fraud and Evading Responsibility

9 Tested packages that were labeled “BPA free”

From protecting infants against harmful substances to protecting mothers from deception, no one is taking responsibility. Brands label their products “BPA free”, yet results have shown that they contain varying percentages of the substance, in violation of Consumer Protection Law, which mandates the “the supplier or advertiser’s commitment to avoid any deceptive behavior that leads to giving a misleading impression to the consumer regarding the nature of the commodity, its essential characteristics, the elements that make it up or its quantity.”

The Consumer Protection Department requires complaints from consumers in order to inspect the deception of baby bottles companies. According to Suad Al-Deeb, a former member of the Department and head of the Special Union for Consumer Protection, “the authority does not take action as an individual initiative, but takes action based on real complaints from consumers and in coordination with the concerned authorities.”

“Based on what should I take an action if I don’t have any information?,” she added.

She also denied the existence of any previous complaints regarding baby bottles and the harm they cause on an infant’s body.

“We did not receive any complaints of that kind and we do not have this level of awareness amongst mothers. We are all trying to raise awareness and educate consumers regarding the products of unlicensed factories and factories that do not operate in accordance with the right standards and specifications,” she told ARIJ.

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Scarce Information

Huda Majdy, an accountant and mother to a three-year-old, says that she uses the plastic bottle alongside breastfeeding. She did not focus on the brand name when choosing, and does not know what BPA is. For her, the most important thing in a baby’s bottle is to clean it well, with hot water after every feed, and boil it in water and vinegar every few days.

But our survey shows that Huda isn’t the only one unaware of BPA and its risks:

chart
of participants bought bottles labelled “BPA free”

78 participants answered the question regarding their knowledge of BPA as:

25
responded with “I don’t know”
8
responded with wrong answers
45
responded with a harmful substance

Head of the Children’s Health Department at the National Research Center, Dr. Khaled Al-Manbawy, said the child health department's research project on BPA, aims to raise citizen and community awareness of its dangers, pointing to the scarcity of information about its cumulative harm to human and public health. He also focused on the necessity of prohibiting its use in any percentage in all industries of children's products, and tightening oversight of products containing the substance, whether in Egyptian factories or imported products.

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After an experiment that began while picking up baby bottles for my daughter from a pharmacy shelf, it became clear that commercial fraud and loose censorship made me and so many others victims of companies that put harmful substances in children’s bottles, and sell mothers a fake sense of security.

Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding baby mother