Plastic water bottles have made it easier for society to stay hydrated while on the go, and some people even claim the quality is much better than tap water, which has made some question its safety. It turns out bottled water may have more rumors surrounding it than health risks.
Rumors about the safety of bottled water first began after a series of hoax emails circulated around the Internet. Popular chemical names that stemmed from those emails and their claims were polyethylene terephthalate (PET), diethylhydroxylamine (DEHA), dioxins, bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates.
PET is a plastic resin and the most common type of polyester. It’s distinguishable by a “#1” on the bottom of the container, and it’s most commonly used by manufacturers because it’s strong, cost-effective, transparent, versatile and recyclable.
DEHA is a chemical used in some plastics. Even though it has many uses, its primary use in water bottles is to keep them from discoloring.
Dioxins are a group of chemicals that are formed unintentionally by industrial processes such as burning fuels and incinerating waste. Only one dioxin, known as TCDD, has been shown to cause cancer in people.
One of the most popular rumors that circulate around plastic water bottles is reusing single-use PET bottles causes them to release carcinogenic DEHA into the fluids they contain. Many consumers wash and reuse these bottles to lessen their environmental footprint or to hold something other than water for a future use, but these bottles are intended to be disposable after one use. Luckily, this claim can be disproven. According to a study done by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, DEHA is not used in the manufacturing of PET bottles and is not created through the breakdown of these bottles. DEHA is also not classified as a human carcinogen.
A second rumor is that freezing plastic water bottles causes them to release carcinogenic dioxins into the fluids they contain. The American Chemistry Council debunked that rumor by stating that there is no scientific basis to support the claim, since dioxins are produced by combustion at extremely high temperatures. They also circled back to the fact that dioxins are not present in plastic food or beverage containers in the first place.
A popular rumor that also hits home for many during the summer months is that heating up some types of plastic bottles, as in leaving them in a hot car, could increase the leaching of harmful phthalates and BPA into the fluids they contain. BPA and phthalates can leach from plastic containers into foods and beverages when heated or used for long periods of time, but there are no studies that show that BPA is associated with adverse effects in human development.
Many people believe BPA and breast cancer go hand in hand. Since BPA is a weak synthetic estrogen, it can act as a hormone disruptor, throwing off the body’s hormonal balance. Because estrogen can make hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer develop and grow, many women choose to limit their exposure.
Concern over BPA ingestion has led to bans by the federal government for baby and children’s items. Baby bottles and sippy cups can no longer contain BPA.
Although there may be concerns about plastic water bottles, the Food and Drug Administration assures consumers that they are safe to use. Even though the plastic they are in may be safe or the odds of being exposed to harmful chemicals are low, researchers urge consumers to take a closer look at the actual water they are drinking.
Tap water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency and undergoes greater testing than bottled water, which is regulated by the FDA. According to a study by the National Resources Defense Council, 22 percent of tested bottled water brands contained chemical contaminants at levels above strict state health limits. Unlike bottled water, tap water is regularly tested for e. coli, and officials are required to provide the source and quality of tap water.
On a final note, according to a report by Food & Water Watch, a public interest organization, 40 percent of all bottled water is taken from municipal water sources.