A few months ago, I received an email forwarded by a well-meaning friend that recounted the story of pop singer Sheryl Crow announcing during a 2006 appearance on the Ellen Degeneres TV show that she got breast cancer as a result of drinking bottled water. Her doctor reportedly warned her not to drink from a water bottle that had been left inside of a hot car due to the heat accelerating the leaching of dangerous chemicals into the water. Having a formal education in science, the idea seems plausible that exposure to temperatures as high as 140⁰ F would serve to accelerate the leaching of chemicals into the water inside. The supposed announcement was not made by Ms. Crow, but recent studies have cast new doubts on the safety of bottled water.
Single serving water bottles have become a part of modern life. You can’t go anywhere and not see at least one person drinking from one. The thin, clear plastic used for these bottles is made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or polycarbonate plastic (PC). In April 2010, Environmental Health Perspectives published that PET might yield endocrine disruptors under common usage conditions and recommended more research on the issue. The leaching of phthalates and antimony were of concern.
More research has been done, and the results are not encouraging. In this year’s Water Research journal, scientists report that repeated use of PET and PC water bottles increases leaching of the toxic chemicals antimony and bromine. These findings were independent of bottles’ exposure to heat or UV radiation, until now considered the main catalysts for leaching components from plastics. Antimony is used as a catalyst in the production of PET plastic. Small amounts of antimony remain in the plastic and leach out into the bottle’s contents. While the leaching into water is of concern, the leaching of antimony into fruit juice concentrates was at a much higher level. Antimony acts as an endocrine disruptor in humans, and while the levels found were below the acceptable limits for current health standards, researchers of the study said regulatory agencies were looking into revising those standards. Spurring this action are new results from in-vitro studies which showed an increased generation of breast cancer cells when antimony is present in the human body.
So while chain emails must be taken with a grain of salt, this one seems to have foreshadowed a dire warning: reusing plastic water bottles may be hazardous to your health. Discouraging the reuse of anything flies in the face of green efforts that encourage people to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Plastic water bottles are a big problem. Less than 10% of bottles manufactured ever make it to a recycling plant. Most bottles fill landfills and litter our fields and bodies of water. Now, the safety of water from these bottles is in question. Will this be enough to inspire a shift in our habits? One can only hope.
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