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Let's play spin the bottle

Everybody gets to put their spin on the safety or danger of the plastic bottles that line our shelves, fill our landfills and litter our lives. Just today the "New York Times" style section has a piece on the greenness of bringing your own water bottle with you.

Everybody gets to put their spin on the safety or danger of the plastic bottles that line our shelves, fill our landfills and litter our lives. Just today the "New York Times" style section has a piece on the greenness of bringing your own water bottle with you. Of course they quote an official from Nalgene, a company that some suspect of selling bottles that leach chemicals into the liquids inside.

I am personally, daily interested in this issue because the tap water in my current hometown tastes like...well, I won't say "crap" but it does taste how I imagine it would taste to lick your oldest shoe. On the inside, not on the outside where rain or friction may have taken off some of the accretions of interest. Frankly our city water here [not San Francisco] even makes tea and coffee taste pretty bad. So I am off to my local emporium to stock up on water as man cannot live on beer and bread alone, so they claim.

I tried to sort through the science, the spin and the legend. I didn't get very far because there is too much we really don't know. Apparently there's been no conclusive research on what bipehnol-A does to humans. That's an organic compund that leaches into liquids from some plastic containers or coatings. My biggest worry: a U.S. government panel last summer said the plastic bottles are NOT a danger. When was the last time you trusted this government to tell you the truth about anything? Still, the urban legend folks think the plastic bottles are just fine. But there are persistent voices saying, "Not so fast."

And not all plastic bottles are created equal. There's that little recycling triangle on the bottom with a number in it. One through seven, the numbers stand for different chemical composition of the plastic bottle. There is suspicion that #7 could be a baddie, also #3 and #6. At least one source says NOT to re-use plastic #1.

Beyond the chemical contamination worries, there is the cost of making all that plastic, hauling all that water around using fossil fuels and then the solid waste and recycling challenge. One estimate is that 90% of our plastic bottles end up in landfills. The average American now consumes 28 gallons of bottled water per year.

Three major U.S. cities have already stopped spending tax dollars on bottled water: New York, Boston and San Francisco. Ann Arbor wants no bottled water at city-sponsored events. Now the argument is being waged in the heart of Silicon Valley where San Jose may also stop buying bottled water for city offices. The battle over bottled water promises to be loud and long. It's now at $11-billion business in the U.S. alone. I can testify you don't want to brush your teeth in stale beer or even over-oxidized Merlot.

Here's the NRDC's summary of the current bottled water health argument: "Recent research suggests that there could be cause for concern, and that the issue should be studied closely. Studies have shown that chemicals called phthalates, which are known to disrupt testosterone and other hormones, can leach into bottled water over time. One study found that water that had been stored for 10 weeks in plastic and in glass bottles contained phthalates, suggesting that the chemicals could be coming from the plastic cap or liner. Although there are regulatory standards limiting phthalates in tap water, there are no legal limits for phthalates in bottled water -- the bottled water industry waged a successful campaign opposing the FDA proposal to set a legal limit for these chemicals."

After reading the accusations against plastic by environmental groups, I noted all the mentions of hormonal disruption. Is it plastic that threatens to eradicate males? Where's the research? Is this a replay of what lead plumbing apparently did to the ancient Romans? Or is that just a classic urban myth as well? Thirsty minds want to know. The uncertainty is leaving a bad taste in my mouth. -------- Wanna do your your own online research? NRDC's report on bottled water. Says two-thirds of bottled water in U.S. is completely unregulated. National Georgaphic's Green Guide. Includes discussion of baby bottles. Blastmagazine questions Nalgene safety. Nalgene says it's stuff is safe. Hey, they even cite the U.S. government and the Plastics Council. Where can I buy more of this stuff?