Nalgene scare isn’t pure science

There needs to be more study into the health effects of drinking from Nalgene bottles.

Take a look around any given classroom at the University and you will notice a substantial percentage of students have water bottles in a variety of colors and styles on their desks. Many of these are the popular Nalgene brand Lexan polycarbonate bottles, famed for their durability and resistance to holding the flavors and odors of the liquids they hold.

About three years ago a researcher at Case Western Reserve University noticed an increase in genetic defects in mice when she cleaned their polycarbonate cages with a harsh detergent. The polycarbonate leached a chemical called bisphenol A, a known component of the material, and supposedly caused chromosomal defects in the lab mice.

While this research should be reason to investigate the material further, it is no reason to recall the bottles and start a national scare. The Sierra Club used the incident to condemn the bottles after the findings were published in Current Biology. Unfortunately, the leap required to do this is far too simplistic.

There is no evidence that the bottles leach bisphenol A or other similar harmful compounds under normal conditions, and more testing is needed to see if microwaving, dishwashing or excessive exposure to heat or cold can trigger it. To solve this problem, consumers must demand more thorough testing to develop safety standards for the bottles. Like other plastics, the materials in Nalgene bottles can be damaged, but it is unclear what the effects of this damage on humans might be.

It probably is not necessary for students to toss their Nalgene bottles and begin using aluminum canteens at this point. But it is likely they should be cautious about the conditions under which they keep their bottles: no microwaving or dishwashing, and replace them as soon as any chips or cracks appear. The evidence against the bottles’ safety just isn’t conclusive enough to say for sure that they are a hazard to human health under normal circumstances. Instead, the companies producing such products should take the initiative to support safety studies and protect the consumer public.