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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, April 14, 2024

As popular plastic comes under scrutiny, Nalgene makes switch


Persistent reminders of global warming and the depletion of natural resources have helped turn Nalgene bottles into a staple on college campuses. The benefits of drinking liters of water a day — coupled with convenient reusability— have made the product a near necessity.

So when some recent research showed the trusted Nalgene plastic was potentially poisonous to its users, the company was forced to rethink its magic formula.

With recent studies linking bisphenol A (BPA), an ingredient in plastic Nalgenes, to birth defects, cancer and diabetes, Nalgene decided to switch to less controversial materials.

Professor Ana Soto of Tufts' School of Medicine, who has been working with BPA and its effect on mice, has found that exposure to the material while still in the womb influences a mouse's growth during puberty such that it is more likely to develop breast cancer.

Soto's findings, which match those of many other researchers, have raised red flags for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which stated in a report that the "possibility that [BPA] may alter human development cannot be dismissed," despite the admission that BPA's effects on humans are still unknown.

As products with BPA are heated or aged, the toxin is more likely to leach out, contaminating the food or liquid stored in it.

While most Americans have what the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) deem a safe amount of BPA in their systems, the wave of controversy surrounding the material has led Nalgene to discontinue its use in bottles and other products.

Steve Silverman, the general manager of Nalgene, said that while he believes the company's original product was safe, customers were concerned nonetheless. "BPA is safe for its intended use. However, our customers indicated they preferred BPA-free alternatives, and we acted in response to those concerns," he said in a press release.

Since releasing that statement, Nalgene has made every effort to disconnect its name from the potentially toxic plastic. The company's new Web site,, promotes "drink[ing] responsibly" and prominently advertises all of its products as BPA free.

In the United States, BPA is so prevalent that the CDC has reported that 93 percent of people have some level of BPA in their bloodstreams. Besides its presence in Nalgenes, BPA is also used in baby bottles, food can liners, dental sealants, CDs and DVDs. Domestically, more than 6 million pounds of the product are produced each year.

Of the products that use BPA, canned-food linings have raised the greatest amount of concern. The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research organization, found that for one in every 10 cans of food tested, a single serving contained BPA levels more than 200 times higher than the government traditionally considers safe for such industrial chemicals.

But there are currently no safety standards preventing or restricting the use of BPA in the United States.

As BPA has many widespread uses, Nalgene is not the only company to be jarred by research suggesting it has harmful effects. In April, Canada decided to list the compound as a toxic substance under its Environmental Protection Act.

California has followed suit by constructing a bill that, if passed, would ban any detectable level of BPA in all toys and child care products sold there.

In anticipation of legislation restricting BPA levels in food containers, other materials are being developed to take its place.

While polyethylene has similar heat, chemical and impact resistance to the BPA plastic, it lacks clarity. Another alternative, Tritan copolyester, offers higher chemical resistance, transparency and versatility.

Some of the industries that heavily rely on BPA are able to find alternatives, but the canning industry says it cannot, claiming to need BPA in the epoxy resin lining that keeps the metal can itself from corroding and leaching toxins into the food.

While the debate as to whether BPA is safe for humans has taken hold in the research world, sparking major media coverage, college students — major players in the market for plastic bottling — seem unfazed.

"[The Nalgene issue] worried me a little, but not enough to stop me from using my Nalgene," sophomore Emily Lin said. "I think I would actually had to have seen the proof of its harmful effects or at least know more details about what they found in the research."

Sophomore Vicki Eastman said that the risk wouldn't change her habits because the convenience of a Nalgene is more important to her.

"I'm not really affected by the news," she said. "Other people come up with reasons to fear life, ... but I bought mine to carry water."