By Alice || Edited by Go Ask Alice Editorial Team || Last edited Feb 02, 2024
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Alice! Health Promotion. "Should I be concerned about BPA from hard plastic water bottles?." Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University, 02 Feb. 2024, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/should-i-be-concerned-about-bpa-hard-plastic-water-bottles. Accessed 24, May. 2024.

Alice! Health Promotion. (2024, February 02). Should I be concerned about BPA from hard plastic water bottles?. Go Ask Alice!, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/should-i-be-concerned-about-bpa-hard-plastic-water-bottles.

Dear Alice,

I use Nalgene bottles for about 75 percent of the water I drink each day. Therefore, I was startled to find out that there is some possibility that these bottles leach chemicals into the water. I've found conflicting opinions about the veracity of these claims on the Internet. What's the truth? Should I dump my Nalgene for glass? You have an earlier post about bottled water, but it doesn't seem to address this issue specifically, and you recommend purchasing reusable bottles like the ones that might be poisoning me. The bottles I use have #7 on the bottom in the recycle symbol.

Please Help.

Thirsty David

Dear Thirsty David, 

In the past, some Nalgene bottles have been controversial for leaching bisphenol A (BPA), an endocrine disruptor that interferes with the body’s hormones. In April 2008, Nalgene started phasing out bottles with BPA and transitioned to using Tritan and Tritan Renew plastics for all their products including water bottles. Both Nalgene and its plastic manufacturer claim the bottles are safe and free of bisphenols and other endocrine disruptors. However, with some research showing that Tritan is not as safe as claimed, switching to stainless steel or glass bottles may be wise. 

Unfortunately, most plastics—including plastic bottles that are meant to be reused—leach chemicals, such as BPA, especially when heated or scratched. BPA mimics estrogen, and exposure to it is linked to reduced fertility for anyone who consumes it, later puberty in those assigned female at birth, earlier puberty in those assigned male at birth, and behavioral problems in children. The good news for you is that the United States (U.S.) Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers Tritan and Tritan Renew microwave and dishwasher safe. The bad news is that research has found that Tritan, especially when heated, may also act as an endocrine disruptor by affecting estrogen levels and accelerating the growth of breast cancer cells. 

Overall, it’s a good idea to use BPA-free plastics. However, it’s important to note that anything labeled “BPA-free” could be made with other bisphenols. While it may not apply to Nalgene’s Tritan and Tritan Renew bottles, other “BPA-free” plastics may contain Bisphenol F (BPF) and bisphenol S (BPS), which have similar effects as BPA. 

There are unfortunately few regulations in the US limiting plastic leaching. While the FDA banned BPA from baby bottles and sippy cups in 2012, they still haven’t limited BPA in food packaging. So, the burden of reducing exposure often falls on you, the consumer. The good news is chemicals like BPA don’t stay in the body permanently and can leave within days, making proactive changes quite effective. That said, you may consider strategies to reduce your exposure to plastic leaching such as: 

  • Avoid certain types of plastics. As you noticed, plastics are classified by recycling codes (also called resin identification codes), which are used to identify the type of plastic and its recyclability. This system labels plastics “1” to “7” with "7" being the hardest to recycle. A rule of thumb is to avoid plastics labeled “7” for bisphenols, and “3” and “6” for other potentially harmful chemicals like phthalates and styrene
  • Avoid heating plastics. Chemicals leach more easily when heated, so avoid putting plastics in the microwave and dishwasher, leaving them in the sun or a hot area, or using them to store hot foods. 
  • Avoid the use of damaged plastics. Damaged plastics are more likely to leach chemicals, so try to stop using and recycle plastics that are scratched or showing signs of wear. 
  • Opt for fresh, whole foods. Since BPA can often leach from the lining of canned foods and other food packaging, eating fewer processed foods can help you reduce your exposure. Frozen foods are also preferable to canned ones as colder temperatures reduce the risk of leaching. 
  • Using a stainless steel or glass bottle. High-quality stainless-steel bottles, while more expensive, are usually durable, corrosion-resistant, and don’t leach chemicals. Plain glass bottles without enamel and paint decor are another safe option, although they're more breakable. 

While current Nalgene bottles are safer because they don’t contain any bisphenols, it’s possible that they can still leach harmful chemicals. Thirsty David, hopefully this information helps you as you go forth and choose your water-carrying adventure wisely! 

Stay hydrated, 

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