The interior of my car gets hot. How hot you ask? Well, I’m not sure of the exact temperature (and being the lazy scientist that I am – I have not bothered measuring it). BUT – I used to have a water bottle that looked like this:
And after sitting on my front seat for a couple of hours it now looks a little deflated:
The fact that the water bottle I drink from every day melted after only a few hours in my car (while my Skittles survived unscathed) had me slightly concerned. Especially since I have several other plastic bottles that have been through a similar ordeal and have lived to hydrate another day. So what’s with the BIOS bottle? I suspect it has something to do with BPA.
Bisphenol A (or BPA) is an organic compound that has been used in the production of polycarbonate plastics since the 1950’s. This type of plastic boasts several advantages over others including being lightweight, tough, very clear, having a high heat resistance (hey!) and good electrical resistance. In addition to bottles, BPA can be found in a large assortment of other stuff like sports equipment, dental fillings, eyeglass lenses, CDs, DVDs, electronics, and as an epoxy resin lining the inside of metal based food and beverage cans1-3.
The problem? My BIOS H2O water bottle is BPA free.
Why you ask? (ok, so I’m pretending you’re asking). BPA is a recognized endocrine disruptor and has been linked to many different health issues such as obesity, impaired neurological development, thyroid function, cancer, and reproductive health. As a result of a myriad of studies, several governments have spent the past 6 years or so funding BPA research3,4. There’s a chance you’ve heard something in the news.
The results? BPA is bad for your health. Probably. Well, there are definitely some strong correlations5,6. Scientists seem to agree that ingestion of BPA could potentially cause some neurological and reproductive health problems if you are less than 18 months of age3,8. Also if you’re a mouse7. In 2010, Environment Canada added BPA to the list of toxic chemicals and is setting up regulations to better control the release of BPA into the environment3,9. Recently, both Canada and the European Union have moved to ban the sale of baby bottles containing BPA plastics10,11.
In true marketeering fashion, reusable bottle manufactures jumped at the opportunity created by the BPA scare and began producing lots of BPA-free products. Like my BIOS bottle. BUT – are these new bottles really better for us? Or are we just trading one type of harmful plastic for another? In our never ending search to root out the cause of disease were we too quick to label BPA a villain? One doesn’t have to look very hard to find articles that outline the flaws in several of the studies on which our governments based their decisions12-14. More to the point, the US and Canadian governments as well as the European Food Safety Authority acknowledge these flaws and continue to state that BPA exposure is below levels deemed unsafe for adults15-17.
Hi folks! Just a small interjection here. When you see “BPA-free” read “not polycarbonate,” because that’s really the only information that sentence offers. That reassuring “BPA-free” sticker on a stainless steel bottle is the same as a “fat-free” label on a box of salt. Of Course it is! It always was! But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily better for you either.
Polycarbonate is made out of BPA, an endocrine disruptor, and phosgene, a choking agent listed in the Chemical Weapons Convention. “What were they thinking! Of course that’s unsafe! I hear you say” (I’m going to pretend, too). Using the same example as before, table salt is made out of sodium, a violently reactive metal, and chlorine, another chemical warfare choking agent.
But there’s the rub: in the first case, my salt example seemed bad for you, in the second it seemed good. This is a basic problem in the public perception of chemicals; a substance is neither “good” nor “bad,” though circumstances can make them seem so. Even worse is the question of “Is it dangerous for you?” Even water and oxygen are toxic at a given dose. Full disclosure: I haven’t given up my polycarbonate Nalgene bottle, though I don’t stick it in the microwave either!
I didn’t purchase my water bottle because it was BPA free – I bought it because it was on sale (wonder why?). And while I realize that melting isn’t a very common event in the life of a bottle, mine is exposed to direct sunlight for about 7 hours a day. This has me pondering what other chemicals (sans BPA) could be leaching into the water I’m drinking from this “softer” type of plastic. Yet without a degree in chemical engineering my ability to make a truly informed consumer decision is somewhat stunted.