Ryan Chartrand

Reusable plastic water bottles, such as Nalgene brand bottles, have been getting a bad rep lately. With many Web sites and so-called experts claiming that harmful chemicals in the plastic leach into drinking water, there is concern among consumers whether going green is worth the risk.

The chemical in question, Bisphenol A (BPA), is a carcinogen linked to breast cancer and the early onset of puberty. Nalgene, a company that makes popular reusable plastic bottles, recently recalled bottles containing BPA, and replaced them with ones that are BPA-free.

Nalgene claims that the levels of BPA present in the plastic are not enough to cause harm to humans, and that under normal use of the bottles, there is no risk.

On its Web site, the company includes a link to a statement from the Food and Drug Administration backing up its promise that the bottles are safe. Some, however, are not convinced.

Joe Smith, a manager at Sports Authority in downtown San Luis Obispo, said many customers are concerned.

“Every person that comes in asks about it,” he said. “There is a lot of concern among the older generation.”

Smith said the store had to recall all of the Nalgene bottles containing BPA. It has since replaced them with BPA-free bottles.

Web sites such as treehugger.com and parentdish.com have articles claiming that these bottles are unsafe, and alternative plastics should be used.

What began as a method to save resources by eliminating the waste of disposable plastic water bottles has erupted into a major issue of safety. But just how accurate are these warnings?

Cal Poly Plastics Program Coordinator Keith Vorst said that, in his research, he has not seen significant levels of BPA to be remotely concerned about the issue. He said that most problems occur when the plastic is being misused.

“If you abuse a plastic – heating it in the microwave at a high temperature, freezing it – then you are subjecting yourself to risk,” Vorst said. “As a society we ask our plastics to behave like metal, but they don’t.”

Vorst said the BPA scare in water bottles is a lot of hysteria for nothing. Between a lack of research on the topic, and backing political motivation by consumer advocacy groups, he said that people are abandoning the reusable bottles for the wrong reasons.

“I’ll be honest, this is very upsetting. We have bigger concerns,” Vorst said. “Waste is a bigger concern. Why don’t we just limit the use of plastic? Why are we targeting something so benign?”

He also said that a driving point behind the concern over harmful BPA is that people think it is trendy to exercise their paranoia, especially with the global “go green” way of thinking.

“There is no grand conspiracy to make people sick,” Vorst said. “People get bored and look for a cause.”

Vorst said that he does not hesitate to allow his children to drink from the bottles, because he believes they are truly safe. The problem arises when people do not use common sense.

“When the plastic becomes hazy, scratched, and it’s wearing, it is time to replace it,” Vorst said. “Don’t put any plastic into the microwave.”

It is only when the plastics are put to the extreme, (heat, cold, etc.) that any real risk of chemicals migrating into your food or drink arises.

Some alternatives would be to purchase bottles that are BPA-free, or simply to replace a bottle when it begins to show signs of wear and tear.

As for Nalgene bottles, Vorst recommends to continue use instead of littering the earth with countless disposable bottles.

“I don’t have a problem with Nalgene bottles,” he said. “I use them.”

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