inFact with Brian Dunning inFact with Brian Dunning


Plastic Water Bottles

They say leaving your plastic water bottle in the car will heat it up and leach dangerous toxins into the water. Should you be concerned?

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It all started in 2001 when a study at the University of Idaho found that plastic bottles leach chemicals into the water. It made the headlines, and soon celebrities took up the cause and blamed water bottles for their disease of the week. Consumer pressure forced some sports bottle manufacturers to switch to aluminum. And yet, water is still sold in plastic bottles. What's up with that?

Your first clue to approach this story with skepticism is that there are no victims: Nobody's ever been found to have been made sick by this. Your second clue is a closer look at the University of Idaho study. It was only one student's thesis paper. The chemical he claimed was leaching, DEHA, was not even present in the type of bottle he tested. His results were due to contamination from the lab equipment, that DOES contain DEHA. Didn't matter to the media; it was a sensational headline and made great news.

But plastics are complicated compounds and do contain all sorts of scary sounding chemicals. The one getting the most headlines now is BPA, bisphenol-A. The latest studies have found that BPA may potentially affect the brain, behavior, and prostate glands in fetuses and infants. Wow! So are BPA and other toxins still used? The answer: Yes.

Every chemical known is both poisonous and safe for consumption, depending on the dose. You can die from drinking too much water, and you can die from breathing too much oxygen. And every person, plant, and animal that's ever lived has had safe levels of plutonium and mercury in their body. Dose is the only characteristic that makes every compound either poisonous or not. The ingredients are in there for a reason; and if the dose is safe, the product is safe.

Every time science makes new findings that affect health, the FDA changes the regulations that control what plastics can be used for what applications. You should always use plastic products for their intended uses only, especially those designed for food contact.

By the way, feel inside your safe and glorious aluminum sports bottle. You'll find it's still lined with an approved plastic. It has to be, otherwise your drink would taste like battery acid. But at least they got you to buy it. Learn the science, not the hype.

— Brian Dunning

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References & Further Reading

ACC. "The Safety of Polythylene Teraphthalate (PET)." PlasticsInfo.Org. American Chemistry Council, 1 Jan. 2007. Web. 13 Nov. 2009. <>

ACS. "Microwaving Plastic." American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society, 1 Jan. 2007. Web. 13 Nov. 2009. <>

Castle, L., Mayo, A., Crews, C., Gilbert, J. "Migration of poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET) oligomers from PET plastics into foods during microwave and conventional cooking and into bottled beverages." Journal of Food Protection. 1 May 1989, Volume 52, Number 5: 337-342.

ELSI Europe Packaging Material Task Force. Packaging Materials: Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) for Food Packaging Applications. Brussels: ILSI Press, 2000.

Mikkelson, B., Mikkelson, D. "Bottle Royale." Snopes. Snopes, 8 Apr. 2009. Web. 5 Oct. 2009. <>

Schmid, P., Kohler, M., Meierhofer, R., Luzi, S., Wegelin, M. "Does the reuse of PET bottles during solar water disinfection pose a health risk due to the migration of plasticisers and other chemicals into the water?" Water Research. 4 Sep. 2008, Volume 42, Issue 20: 5054-5060.


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