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Plastic Water Bottles and Cancer
An email has been circulating recently reporting the danger of hot plastic containers:
Subject: Heated Bottles of Water Are Dangerous and Caused Sheryl Crow's Cancer
Dr. Ed Zimney, MD, has written this report, which clears up the confusion:
Plastic water bottles, hot cars and breast cancer: What you need to know about PET and BPA
Recently, weÕve received a number of inquiries about whether thereÕs an increased risk of breast cancer in women who drink water from plastic water bottles, especially from those bottles that might have been left in a hot car. The assertion is that the heat in the car causes the plastic bottle to release harmful chemicals into the water, which is then consumed leading to inadvertent ingestion of potential carcinogens. This claim has been the subject of many waves of e-mails that get forwarded around the Internet, but which never come with any background or supporting information.
Some Web sites, like Snopes.com, have debunked these e-mails as nothing more than either a hoax or an urban legend. The origin, they say, is from overblown media reports of a masterÕs thesis written by a University of Idaho student whose research has never been confirmed and whose findings and conclusions have been challenged. The student apparently found a chemical called DHEA (that was once thought to be a carcinogen) in samples from reused water bottles. The problem is that the water bottles are made from a different chemical called polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which has no relationship whatsoever (not as a raw material, byproduct or decomposition product) with DHEA. Moreover, DEHA is a common plasticizer that is used in innumerable plastic items, many of which are found in the laboratory. For this reason, the studentÕs detection of DEHA is likely to have been the result of inadvertent lab contamination.
So what is PET and is it safe? PET is widely used in food packaging, especially in water and carbonated beverage bottles because it is lightweight, doesnÕt migrate into the food or liquid, is biologically inert if ingested and has shown no toxicity or carcinogenicity in animal testing. In addition, it has no evidence of any estrogen or estrogen-like activity (which might be important with regard to causing breast cancer). So my conclusion is that PET-containing water bottles are safe to use, are safe to use more than once and are safe to use even if theyÕve been left in a hot car. ThereÕs just no theoretical or practical reasons why there would be a problem with these bottles (aside from their huge negative environmental impact, but thatÕs another issue). Information on PET safety can be found on the Plasticsinfo.org website.
But just when you might think it was safe to drink the water, along comes another chemical called BPA or bisphenol A. Scientists at the CDC recently reported that they found trace amounts of BPA in the urine of 93 percent of the people they studied. So now we have to ask what is BPA, whereÕs it coming from and is it safe?
BPA is an industrial chemical whose major use is in the production of polycarbonates and epoxy resins. Polycarbonates are used in various consumer products, including a number that come into contact with food, such as certain plastic beverage containers and baby bottles, plastic dinnerware, and plastic food storage containers. Epoxy resins are part of the protective linings used in food and beverage cans, and it is likely that canned food is the major source of human consumption of BPA (in addition to that from plastic baby bottles). The plastic beverage containers that use BPA in their manufacture are the hard colored plastic bottles with the number 7 on the bottom (as opposed to PET bottles that are clear, softer and have the number 1).
But is BPA safe? The answer to this is much more complex than that for PET, and it basically comes down to whom you want to believe. ThatÕs because an expert panel convened by the Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction (CERHR) of the National Toxicology Program found no major health risks in their review of BPA data while the non-profit Environmental Working Group criticized the panelÕs conclusions, claiming that they endorsed a flawed and biased report that minimized the risks that BPA poses to humans. In addition, the panelÕs report conflicts with a statement written by 38 scientists who voiced concern about BPAÕs safety in the journal Reproductive Toxicology. Their concern is that BPA may have biologic effects similar to estrogen and might therefore promote breast cancer and/or cause problems in either the developing fetus or growing infants.
While the jury is still out on BPA, you can reduce your exposure to it by avoiding the use of hard plastic products labeled #7, including reusable water bottles like Nalgene, baby bottles and food storage containers (especially if you put in hot foods or liquids or if you heat these products in a microwave). This, however, will not reduce the major source of BPA, which is from canned food. The Environmental Working Group offers tips on avoiding BPA exposure at and has more BPA information on its EnviroBlog.
In summary, PET-containing water bottles that are clear, somewhat soft and labeled #1 appear to be safe even if exposed to high temperatures, whereas BPA-containing plastic products that are colored, hard and labeled #7 may present health concerns (especially when heated) and might be best avoided.
Plastic and Your Microwave
TMichelle Meadows of the USDA sheds light on the dangers of chemicals leaching from plastic into microwaved food.
Truth or Fiction?
Truth or Fiction.com has released a report on rumors about the health of plastic
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