Bottle Blues: Canada calls Nalgene plastic toxic

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The "to-drink-or-not-to-drink-out-of-a-Nalgene-bottle" debate has been raging for a few years now, and it looks like Nalgene's about to take the biggest blow yet. Insiders at the Canadian health department claim that the government plans to declare bisphenol-A, or B.P. A., a toxic chemical as early as Wednesday. B.P.A. is a primary component of the exceptionally hard, clear plastic used most famously in Nalgene bottles. Baby bottles, beverage and food containers, and the linings in food cans also frequently use bisphenol-a.

In lab tests, B.P.A. disrupts the hormonal systems of animals, and a draft report from the United States' Department of Health and Human Services National Toxicology Program expressed worry that the plastic could cause "neural and behavioral changes" in people who consume B.P.A. Coupled with the Canadian decision, the U.S. could follow in issuing a warning about B.P.A., but for now the draft report just calls for more research on the plastic.

But the scientific jury is still out: Some chemists consider bisphenol-a fairly safe and want to see more tests done.

“If I was a fish and there was bisphenol-a in the water, I’d be concerned,” said Warren G. Foster, director of the center for reproductive care and reproductive biology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. “If I was a fetus and my mother was using a plastic water bottle, I wouldn’t be bothered.”

With both Canadian and American advocacy groups lobbying to ban bisphenol-A, the debate won't likely end anytime soon. Until then, it's a matter of personal choice. But just in case you've got a Nalgene or two kicking around (that's pretty much everyone), here's a few tips to minimize your chemical exposure:

- Wash bottles by hand with warm, soapy water; not in a dishwasher or with bleach or alkaline cleaners.

-Avoid filling bottles with boiling water (a February 2008 study concluded that exposure to boiling water causes BPA to be released at higher levels).

-Replace bottles when they become worn, cracked, or cloudy.

For more tips and full coverage of the Nalgene/bisphenol-A controversy, check out the story "What's In Your Bottle?" in BACKPACKER's June issue. — Ted Alvarez

Canada Likely to Label Plastic Ingredient ‘Toxic’ (NY Times)