Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Water bottles: plastic vs. glass

As I mention in this video, it is prudent to stay away from plastic water bottles that leach out bisphenol A, or BPA. For those of you who are curious about which water bottles those are, they're the ones that seem virtually indestructible - the prototypical Nalgene water bottles. Ironically, Nalgene water bottles were originally marketed as water bottles that would not leach plastic byproducts. They once were seen as the environmentally sound brand. Oops.
So what is the big deal about BPA? Studies have linked it to a number of estrogen-sensitive conditions: obesity, breast cancer (even the CDC acknowledges this), premature onset of puberty in girls (the average age of menarche, or a woman’s first menstrual cycle, has dropped by at least one year, if not more, over the past 50 years or so), gynecomastia (development of breast tissue in males) and birth defects. BPA was actually used as a estrogen mimicker in lab tests during the 1930s before diethylstilbestrol (DES) replaced it as a stronger estrogen substitute. (Babies were exposed to DES when their mothers took it to prevent miscarriages. Unfortunately, we discovered that “DES daughters” experienced a greater risk of vaginal and cervical cancer, infertility, and pregnancy complications. It was subsequently taken off the market years ago. But I digress.)
Which plastics leach BPA? Apparently, the hard plastics (like Nalgene) that are imprinted with the number 7 inside the recycling symbol are the ones to avoid. According to this website, plastic #7 is a catch-all for “miscellaneous plastics.” This includes Tupperware. Often, plastic #7 is not recyclable.
There are a few arguments against studies showing the dangers of BPA. First, some studies have shown that BPA doesn’t really increase the risk of, say, cancer. These studies, though, don’t take into account the synergy that occurs when other compounds interact with BPA, and the combination can be particularly dangerous. (Also consider that adipose tissue, or fat, in itself tends to favor the production of estrogen. Being obese may also act synergistically with BPA. With obesity being rampant in society today, this issue becomes even more vital to address.) One could also argue that these studies have all been performed on rats and not humans. Unfortunately, humans are often more sensitive to toxins than rats, particularly when fetuses are exposed to them. BPA is no exception. (And who would willingly undergo a study that exposes them to a potentially carcinogenic substance?)

Stick with glass water bottles if you're looking for an environmentally sound alternative to plastic water bottles. If you want to get something more stylish and perhaps more resilient than glass, there are many companies that sell excellent metal water bottles. Like glass, these water bottles do not leach out harmful substances, and they are completely recyclable after being used. They just cost a bit more.
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