Are Plastic Bottles Dangerous to Your Health?

Earth Talk
From the Editors of
E/The Environmental Magazine

Some health advocates recommend not re-using bottles made from plastic #1 (polyethylene terephthalate), including most disposable water, soda and juice bottles. Studies indicate they may leach DEHP - a probable human carcinogen - when they are in less than perfect condition. Photo: Getty Images.

Dear EarthTalk: Are the rumors true that refilling and reusing some types of plastic bottles can cause health problems?
--Regina Fujan, Lincoln, NE

Most types of plastic bottles are safe to reuse at least a few times if properly washed with hot soapy water. But recent revelations about chemicals in Lexan (plastic #7) bottles are enough to scare even the most committed environmentalists from reusing them (or buying them in the first place). Studies have indicated that food and drinks stored in such containers—including those ubiquitous clear Nalgene water bottles hanging from just about every hiker’s backpack—can contain trace amount of Bisphenol A (BPA), a synthetic chemical that interferes with the body’s natural hormonal messaging system.

The same studies found that repeated re-use of such bottles—which get dinged up through normal wear and tear and while being washed—increases the chance that chemicals will leak out of the tiny cracks and crevices that develop over time. According to the Environment California Research & Policy Center, which reviewed 130 studies on the topic, BPA has been linked to breast and uterine cancer, an increased risk of miscarriage, and decreased testosterone levels. BPA can also wreak havoc on children’s developing systems. (Parents beware: Most baby bottles and sippy cups are made with plastics containing BPA.) Most experts agree that the amount of BPA that could leach into food and drinks through normal handling is probably very small, but there are concerns about the cumulative effect of small doses.

Health advocates also recommend not reusing bottles made from plastic #1 (polyethylene terephthalate, also known as PET or PETE), including most disposable water, soda and juice bottles. According to The Green Guide, such bottles may be safe for one-time use, but reuse should be avoided because studies indicate they may leach DEHP—another probable human carcinogen—when they are in less than perfect condition. The good news is that such bottles are easy to recycle; just about every municipal recycling system will take them back. But using them is nonetheless far from environmentally responsible: The nonprofit Berkeley Ecology Center found that the manufacture of plastic #1 uses large amounts of energy and resources and generates toxic emissions and pollutants that contribute to global warming. And even though PET bottles can be recycled, millions find their way into landfills every day in the U.S. alone.

Another bad choice for water bottles, reusable or otherwise, is plastic #3 (polyvinyl chloride/PVC), which can leach hormone-disrupting chemicals into the liquids they are storing and will release synthetic carcinogens into the environment when incinerated. Plastic #6 (polystyrene/PS), has been shown to leach styrene, a probable human carcinogen, into food and drinks as well.

Safer choices include bottles crafted from safer HDPE (plastic #2), low-density polyethylene (LDPE, AKA plastic #4) or polypropylene (PP, or plastic #5). Consumers may have a hard time finding water bottles made out of #4 or #5, however. Aluminum bottles, such as those made by SIGG and sold in many natural food and product markets, and stainless steel water bottles are also safe choices and can be reused repeatedly and eventually recycled.

CONTACTS:
The Green Guide
Environment California
SIGG


GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit it at: http://www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/thisweek/, or e-mail: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Read past columns at: http://www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/archives.php

By the way: My personal fave water bottle is my klean kanteen with a sports lid top. I take it pretty much everywhere with me.

Comments

Gregory's picture

Please do more research and amend this article with correct information. Your article states that DEHP can leech from #1 PETE bottles, but DEHP is not used in #1 type plastic, it's sometimes used in #3 type plastic as a plasticizer (different plasticizers can be used in #3 PVC plastic and DEHP is one of them), so if DEHP is going to leech from a plastic it will be the #3 type, not the #1 type. If you talk to any reputable scientist familiar with plastics they can confirm this for you.

I don't know where you got your bad information but one possible source is this: "The idea that reusing plastic bottles can cause compounds in the plastic to break down into carcinogenic substances comes from a 2001 Master's Thesis by a student at the University of Idaho. Despite the fact that the thesis was not subject to peer review and, thus, lacking any degree of scientific authority, several media outlets picked up on it and ran the typical "what-you-don't-know-can-kill-you" stories." from http://www.breakthechain.org/exclusives/waterbottles.html

Also if #1 bottles are recommended for one-time use, it's because of concerns about possible bacterial contamination once opened, not because of any possibility of DEHP leeching out.

I DO agree that buying lots of disposable plastic water bottles is not good for the environment, so promoting reusable bottles is an admirable goal. However I get the impression that some green organizations are spreading false information to accomplish this goal and that's not the right way to promote environmental responsibility.

Guest's picture

Also Aluminum bottles are lined with BPA containing plastic. So, only safe laternative is stainless steel.

DawnH's picture

Um, Gregory, you cited a rebuttal that was written in 2003. Things change, bud, read up on the recent information.

Thanks for the article!!

Guest's picture

Aluminum is implicated an alzheimers and many diseases. Not recommended. Stainless steel is your best bet.

Rick's picture

Many 5 gal water bottles used to be made with #3 plastic, and now #7 which are known to leech Bisphenol A. If the same bottle was used over and over for several years, wouldn't it eventually leech out less and less Biphenol? I mean, it is a bi-product and wouldn't it eventually be completely leeched out?

Steven's picture

I really wonder if bottles made from plastic #1 (polyethylene terephthalate) are a health hazard.

Plastic bottled water goes bad, i.e. picks up a bad or 'plastic' taste, after a relatively short time. If the bottles are stored in a warm environment or exposed to sunlight this happens much quicker. If the plastic was truly a neutral container then the water would not go bad.

Are you sensitive to PET (PETE) plastic? Try this test:
1) Stick out your tongue, slightly.
2) Take the plastic bottle and place it so that rests against the tongue and leave it so that it is making constant contact for 30-45 seconds.

If your tongue or inside of your lip starts to burn or go numb then you have a sensitivity to something in the plastic! STAY AWAY!! Whether this is DEHP or something else I don't know. What I do know is that I can't drink anything that comes from a #1 container without getting ill.

Guest's picture

are those big orange plastic barrels guys use on construction sites or roofers,painters etc safe? they refill them daily and use them

GIDEON's picture

is it healthy to use plastic botles for drinking water?

maina05's picture

No Gideon,it is not!That handy plastic water bottle we've gotten used to carrying around with us is often made from plastics that bear cancer-producing toxins named phthalates. They really leach into the water that we're drinking and accumulate in our bloodstreams. Reports are showing that the concentrations of phthalates in our bodies are increasing with each generation, principally as a result of bottled drinking water packaged in toxic plastic containers.

Guestplumber mike's picture

it just boggles the mind how many people think that drinking out of plastic bottles is ok. I been a plumber for over 37 years and install water filters for homes. The research I have done on our water from the street and what they still allow to be in our water is slowly killing us. The minimum standards set by our so called goverment is never good enough. I try to educate my customer to do their own research on plastics and the dangers of plastics and the so called water that is good to drink from the street is killing us slowly. Especially here in Phoenix where there is so much chlorine in the water it is eating through the copper pipes! Can you imagine what it is doing to us?

Phillip's picture

Hi

It is good to find out about plastic bottles. Now I know that some can harm people.

Thanks for letting me know how harmful some plastic bottle can be harmful so from now on I am going to uses glass bottles.

Phillip.

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