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Study: Bottles That Claim to Be BPA-Free Largely Live Up to Their Promises

July 12, 2011 -- Reusable metal water bottles have lately gained a certain cachet as a greener, healthier alternative to some kinds of plastics, which can release trace amounts of a hormone-disrupting chemical into the liquids they hold.

But a new study shows that some kinds of aluminum bottles may be releasing more of that chemical, known as bisphenol A (BPA), than the hard, clear polycarbonate plastic bottles they were supposed replace.

Sales of one popular brand of reusable water bottles have roughly tripled in the four years since it was launched in the United States, according to The Aluminum Association, an industry trade group in Arlington, Va.

In a 2009 interview with the New York Times, the CEO of that company said sales had been driven by the “huge green wave” and “the BPA scare.”

Worries About BPA

BPA is a chemical that’s widely used in food packaging. It’s also thought to act like a hormone in the body.

Though the research is still ongoing, in animal studies, BPA has been linked to a large range of effects, from birth defects, to problems with brain and nervous system function, to reproductive abnormalities and some kinds of cancer. In humans, BPA has been tied to reproductive problems in women and men. A 2008 study by researchers at the CDC detected it in the urine of 93% of people they tested.

Another recent study showed that people could lower their levels of BPA by eating fresh, rather than packaged, foods and by avoiding plastic food containers.

BPA in Aluminum Bottles

But the new study, which is published in the journal Chemosphere, shows that aluminum water bottles aren’t necessarily a BPA-free alternative. 

In a carefully controlled test, where researchers stored ultra-pure water in several different kinds of containers for five days, they found that some aluminum bottles released up to five times the amount of BPA that was shed by the older, polycarbonate bottles.

“It’s been used for marketing purposes,” says study researcher Scott M. Belcher, PhD, an associate professor of pharmacology and cell biophysics at the University of Cincinnati, in Ohio.

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