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October 22, 2013

Plastic bottled water not good for you

Scott Stockdale

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A populace increasingly concerned about both health and environmental issues may help to explain the increasing popularity of water in plastic bottles. The World Bank estimates the bottled water market at $800 billion. Though blessed with an abundance of clean water, the U.S. now consumes more bottled water than any other country, piling up enough empty bottles to run the circumference of the equator every 27 hours.

But increasingly, studies are showing that these water bottles are in fact detrimental both to health and the environment. Could this be an example of how marketing trumps the truth?

“The problem with water bottles is they're made of plastic,” said Dr. Ravi Patel, founder of the Comprehensive Blood and Cancer Center. ”And there’s different kinds of plastic. Plastics actually release different chemicals in different situations.”

Leaving bottled water in your car or strapped to your bike and exposed to the hot sun will cause even more serious chemical exposure.

Ultraviolet rays from the sun or high temperatures will accelerate leaching of the chemicals in plastic into the water.

Of the numerous chemicals that heat increases leaching from the plastic into the water and even food, Dr. Patel said two chemicals pose the biggest threat: Bisphenol A (BPA) and dioxin. These two chemicals have been associated with a whole host of health issues, including birth defects, cancer - a variety of things, Dr. Patel said.

Bisphenol A (BPA) is an estrogen-mimicking chemical that has been linked to numerous health problems including: learning and behavioural problems, altered immune system function, early puberty in girls and fertility problems, decreased sperm count, prostate and breast cancer, diabetes and obesity. But the American Cancer Society says more research needs to be done.

“There really isn’t evidence and there really isn’t going to be evidence soon about how these things increase individual cancer risk. The individual risk of developing cancer is going to be very very small,” said Dr. Tune, with The American Cancer Society. Though Dr. Tune downplays the connection, he says high levels of BPA have been linked to an increased risk of reproductive issues, not cancer.

Dr. Joseph Mercola, an osteopathic physician, who was granted fellowship status by the American College of Nutrition in October 2012, said if you're pregnant or nursing, your child is also at risk. If you are feeding your baby or toddler from a plastic bottle, switch to glass to avoid BPA contamination.

Dioxin has been strongly linked to the development of breast cancer.

Phthalates is yet another harmful chemical found in the plastics that are used to make water bottles. Phthalates are widely used to make plastics like polyvinyl chloride more flexible. Phthalates are chemicals which have been linked to many developmental and reproductive problems, including reduced sperm counts, testicular atrophy or structural abnormality, and liver cancer. Moreover, in experiments on rats, phthalates have significantly blocked the action of fetal androgens, which affect gender development in male offspring, leading to undescended testes at birth, and testicular tumours later in life.

Meanwhile, despite the good intentions that appear to be behind recycling, there is seemed to be a downside. Recycling is costly, labour-intensive and burns natural resources. Another problem with bottled water is the incredible amount of fuel needed to transport these heavy loads of plastic bottles to consumers.

And just because they go in the recycling bin, doesn't necessarily mean plastic water bottles are being recycled. According to the Environmental Working Group, in preparing disposable plastic water bottles for market, it is estimated that two litres of water are needed to fill ever litre of water in the bottles, resulting in approximately 72 billion gallons wasted annually worldwide.

The campaign “Ban the Bottle” claims that it takes 17 million barrels of oil per year to make all the plastic water bottles used in the U.S. alone. That's enough oil to fuel 1.3 million cars for a year.

Their website also states: "In 2007, Americans consumed over 50 billion single serve bottles of water. With a recycling rate of only 23%, over 38 billion bottles end up in landfills.

More, Americans are buying more bottle water than ever. According to sales figures from Beverage Marketing Corporation, 9.1 billion gallons of bottled water were sold in the U.S in 2011, 29.2 gallons of bottled water per person. This is the highest total volume of bottled water ever sold in the U.S., and also the highest per-person volume.

At the retail level, Americans spent $21.7 billion on bottled water in 2011, in part because the big three bottled water companies – Coca Cola, Pepsi and Nestle – have been discounting water heavily in the last few years. One can only wonder if this money could be put to better use.

Although the U.S. has among the safest tap water in the world, the U.S. remains the largest market for bottled water. The next two, in order, are China and Mexico, both countries in which tap water is either unavailable or typically not considered safe to drink.

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