The Nalgene problem

A new study finds a piece of popular college gear may have toxic properties.

Around campus, the Nalgene bottle is perhaps second only to the cell phone as a favorite accessory for students. And why not? It’s lightweight, virtually indestructible, environmentally friendly – not to mention wallet friendly – by preventing the waste of buying disposable bottles of water from vending machines. Plus, it comes in all those neat colors and shapes.

But last week, a draft report released by the U.S. National Toxicology Program found that a tasteless chemical contained in the plastic, called bisphernol-A or BPA, may be toxic. In laboratory tests, scientists found that the chemical may have significant impact on “neural and behavior effects in fetuses, infants and children at current human exposures” and may be a potential cancer risk.

The chemical isn’t isolated to use in Nalgene products. It’s found in the lining of most canned foods and beverages and, most alarmingly, in baby bottles. Scientists have said that for most uses, including as water bottles, the level of BPA people are exposed to is nothing to worry about, at least according to the evidence we currently have. But if the plastic containing the chemical is scratched, worn, or heated, as it routinely is for baby bottles, more of the chemical could leak into food or water that people and infants consume and could lead to developmental problems.

The Canadian government has already moved to remove all plastic containers containing BPA within 60 days and may eventually ban BPA outright. Wal-Mart has also pulled any products containing the chemical off its shelves, and the Nalgene company has announced it will be switching to a BPA-free plastic in its bottles.

We don’t suggest that everyone who owns a Nalgene bottle stampede to toss them in the recycling bin, but it’s always better to err on the side of caution. If yours is damaged, it may be time to retire it, and it would be wise to avoid putting it in the microwave or dishwasher where the heat could release toxins.

Further study is necessary to find out just how dangerous this chemical may or may not be. If all else fails, we can always take our business to the tin-canteen industry.