Clear and plastic danger
The mysterious world of plastics: convenient, yet filled with vague and shadowy dangers.
Sunday, March 20, 2011 - 16:52
Photo: Jill Dolowich
There are indisputably valuable uses for bottled water. After all, plastic water bottles have been invaluable in saving lives during the crisis in Japan. But while Americans and citizens all over the world drink bottled water for convenience and "health" reasons, most are unaware of the risks.
It doesn't seem like leaving a water bottle out in the sun for any extended period of time would bring any harm to the water. It's sterilized and in a sealed environment: the bottle. The bottle, however, proves to be the problem when it comes to sun exposure.
When it comes to plastic bottles consumers still need to do their homework. Research shows that clear bottles made of polycarbonate plastic, as well as many food containers, contain a chemical known as bisphenol A or (BPA). This is an endocrine-disrupting chemical that acts like estrogen in the body. BPA essentially tricks your body into thinking it's estrogen, says Washington State University Researcher Dr. Patricia Hunt. She discovered the dangers of BPA when some of her polycarbonate mouse cages started to leach BPA, causing infertility in female mice. When plastic is heated or left out in the sun, it releases its chemical composition into the environment. The heated plastic releases its BPA into the water, increasing exposure to significantly higher levels of BPA.
According to Dr. De-Kun Li's study "Exposure to bisphenol A and its effect on the human reproductive system," BPA has been linked to low sperm counts and an increased risk of breast and prostate cancer. Dr. Li suggests avoiding water bottles made from plastic. There are also serious concerns about the potential for other plastic chemicals to leach out of typical PET water bottles — especially if they sit in the hot sun.
Studies of BPA have raised concern for decades, and the evidence is complex and open to interpretation. That's life: In the real world, regulatory decisions usually must be made with ambiguous and conflicting data. The president's cancer panel released a landmark study in May 2010 which advocates a more rigorous regulation of chemicals. Legislation has also been introduced in the Senate backed by Dianne Feinstein of California that would ban bisphenol A.
Many environmental specialists recommend if you are going to consume bottled water, do not store it in direct sunlight or in a heated environment. If at all possible, it is best to forgo bottled water all together, and use a BPA-free container such as stainless steel. Tap water, insists researchers, is by far the better alternative because it contains no BPA, nor does it have the extended environmental impact that a water bottle does (for example, taking hundreds of years to break down in a landfill).
It's better all around to use a reusable water bottle. Fill it with your own filtered water and keep single-use bottles out of the landfill. You can choose from either stainless steel water bottles or other types of BPA-free bottles. They cost about $10 or less for basic varieties and will allow you to take water to the office, in the car — almost anywhere when you're on the go.
Bottled water usage is a hard habit to change. The ease and convenience make it hard to give up. But by making a few simple changes in your home, as well as buying a reusable bottle for on the go, will help you to stick with a no-plastic policy.
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