Be suspicious of 'BPA-free' claims

Nasty little chemical remains unregulated in Alaska and beyond

Posted: Friday, February 26, 2010

Toss those old CamelBaks, SIGG and Nalgene bottles. Re-evaluate those lightweight, plastic eating utensils and dishes.

Those items most likely contain bisphenol A, known most commonly at BPA. This synthetic sex hormone was developed in the 1930s and is now used in household plastic products around the world. It's a nasty little chemical that has been linked to heart disease, diabetes and liver abnormalities in humans, according to a 2008 study. Other scientific studies have linked this hormone-disrupting chemical - even at low levels - to cancer, miscarriage, obesity, reproductive problems, attention deficit disorders and erectile disfunction. It's fair to say most Americans have been exposed to these in low doses.

Don't panic.

Do, however, be skeptical.

Since BPA's "badness" hit the scene, sales of metal water bottles have soared. But those companies are proving they can't be trusted.

REI, for instance, vowed to stop selling BPA-laden products back in 2008, a great step by a company known for its good customer service and equally good outdoor gear. What they may not have known was that their popular SIGG USA brand water bottles and liquid containers, which are made primarily of lightweight aluminum, contained an interior coating laden with BPA. Yet the bottles still touted "BPA-free" on the exterior. The company has since offered to exchange the offending bottles for shiny new ones. Some faithful H20 sippers are still waiting.

Locally, some retailers have vowed to follow in REI's footsteps and phase out products containing BPA. Kroger, the parent company to Fred Meyer, is one. Safeway and Wal-Mart, are two more.

Water bottle companies such as CamelBak, Nalgene, Aladdin and Polar Bottle are also making similar promises to consumers.

But what about those backpacking mugs, pot sets and utensils made ultra-lightweight by their plastic construction? BPA-free promises on those items is harder to find and, after the SIGG issue, I'm doubtful.

Perhaps the safe route would be to switch to the absurdly expensive, yet absolutely lightweight alternative: Titanium. A pot set from REI sells for about $120.

Ouch.

Maybe I could get by with the folding spork (a fork/spoon combo), which will only set me back $10.50, and a trusty, old, stainless steel mug. Because one thing I certainly don't want to add to my backpacking experience, besides a few bisphenols, is weight.

So the future is looking bright, and BPA-free.

Or is it?

Unfortunately, there's little government oversight of toxic chemicals in consumer products. Some states, such as Connecticut and Minnesota passed bans on BPA products for children last year. Chicago and Suffolk County, N.Y., took similar steps. And this year, states in the Pacific Northwest, such as Washington and Oregon, are following suit. Other states taking action are Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wisconsin.

Many of these bans are associated with baby bottles, sippy cups and formula containers, and as a mom of a toddler, I applaud their efforts.

But what about the rest of us? It's time. And Alaska, with it's scores of outdoor devotees, should lead the way.

Because as I'm swigging down water halfway up Mt. Juneau, I can't help but wonder if I'm doing more harm by hydrating, than not.

• Outdoors editor Abby Lowell can be reached at 523-2271 or bye-mail at abby.lowell@juneauempire.com.



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