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BPA and Waterbottles

A few weeks ago we mentioned that BPA, Bisphenol A, a compound imitating estrogen that 'might' leach out of polycarbonate water bottles, was under attack again. This time a study focused on baby bottles that could potentially leach the compound.

Is this another over-hyped study that creates hysteria simply because the media is looking for fodder to sell their publications? You should be asking that question because the popular media really doesn’t much care about creating a balanced report. If it concerns you enough to read or listen to what they report, into the news it goes. Publications get off the hook of creating a balanced report by stating they are bringing new findings to your attention and tht you have the right to know these things. That’s true. To our way of thinking, however, responsible reporting will cast new findings in the context of the body of research conducted on that topic. Such context is often missing from popular health coverage. It really doesn’t matter to many in the print or broadcast media whether the research was well conducted or whether  99 other studies using sounder science refute the new findings. So reader beware.

In the case of BPA, we’ve excerpted material from Stephen Regenold the editor and creator of a website and an email newsletter called The Gear Junkie. Regenold is also the writer of a syndicated newspaper column running under the same banner. We think he does a pretty good job of presenting the facts about BPA as they are now known. Ironically in the discussion below you might note that this BPA scare has been a boon for Sigg aluminum bottles. Twenty years ago the popular media whipped up a frenzy about aluminum being linked to Alzheimers Disease. Ahhh, how fickle (and comical) we all are.

“For outdoorsy types, BPA first came to attention a couple years back when Nalgene Nunc International, makers of the ubiquitous cylindrical water bottle, came under fire for employing the chemical in its polycarbonate bottles and containers. I wrote about the topic in my column “Hydration Bottle Health/Polycarbonate Polemics” in May of 2005.

The meat of my column addressed a study by a researcher at Case Western Reserve University. Dr. Patricia Hunt, a geneticist working with laboratory mice, noticed a spike in chromosomal abnormalities after a lab worker cleaned a set of polycarbonate mouse cages with a harsh detergent, leaching BPA into the animals’ environment.

Hunt’s findings, which were published in the journal Current Biology at the time, were used by Sierra magazine and other media to perpetuate—somewhat haphazardly—a scare that polycarbonate or Lexan water bottles might leach similar nasty chemicals into the digestive tracts of hikers, backpackers, and other outdoors athletes, not to mention the millions of workaday water drinkers who sip from colorful Nalgene bottles.

Nalgene has from the start denied any risks. Here’s the company line: “Based on the findings of the Food and Drug Administration, The Environmental Protection Agency, The American Plastics Council and other reliable sources from around the world, we continue to firmly believe in the safety of our products.” (See the company’s disclaimer and Q&A page here: http://www.nalgene-outdoor.com/technical/bpaInfo.html)

It’s been four years since Dr. Hunt’s findings were reported, and despite a lot of conversation and serious concern about BPA infiltrating bottled drinking water, there is still no definitive say on potential health effects in humans.

However, a new market for BPA-free water bottles has been a boon for companies like Sigg Switzerland (http://www.mysigg.com) and Klean Kanteen (http://www.kleankanteen.com), respectively makers of aluminum and stainless steel water bottles (see images above).

In addition, last month CamelBak (http://www.camelbak.com) announced its Better Bottle line, which are polycarbonate-like bottles that do not contain BPA. CamelBak partnered with Eastman Chemical Company to manufacture the Better Bottle, employing a “new generation copolyester” material that contains no BPA but is still strong and heat resistant.

Personally, I have no plans to throw my Nalgene bottles away. I use them for backpacking trips and other adventures where I need to haul water in a solid container. But for day to day use, I have switched. If I’m making a long drive, going to work out at a gym, etc., I now tote a metal bottle along instead of polycarbonate. I’m not freaking out about BPA.Though I try to avoid it when I can. Better safe than sorry, I guess.”