Your Plastic Water Bottles and Food Containers are Killing You

Ingesting plastic is poisonous.

We all drink bottled water.  We also all order takeout, which often comes in a plastic container.  It’s so convenient.  It’s also great for reheating.  But, both drinking and eating out of plastic containers may be deadly.  At the very least, consuming liquid and food out of plastic has some potentially dire health consequences we should all consider before taking that next sip or spoonful of food. Impossible, you say? I never gave it much thought myself. That is, until I came across the concept in the book The Telomere Effect by Dr. Blackburn and Dr. Epel.  They wrote, “Avoid plastic drinking bottles and cookware.  Even BPA (Bisphenol A)-free plastic bottles may not be free of other harmful chemicals.  BPA substitutes may be as unsafe; they just haven’t been studied to the same extent (plus, we may soon have more plastic in the ocean than fish if we don’t reduce our reliance on plastic bottles).  Try not to microwave plastics, even the ones that say they are microwaveable.  It’s true that microwaveable plastics won’t warp when you heat them, but there are no promises that you won’t get a dose of plastics in your food.”1  As I read the words they wrote, I thought to myself, “Uh oh, I constantly drink out of plastic bottles.  I also microwave things in plastic all the time. Maybe I better rethink that.”  Just before I began reversing my age, I happened to buy a bunch of “BPA-free” plastic “microwavable” food containers.  I threw away a pile of very old plastic containers, some of which came with chinese food delivered literally a decade ago (I miss Chinese food).  I thought I was being so smart and health conscious by switching to “BPA-free” plastic.  It turns out, I was not so smart after all.  Rather, I was just the victim of some clever advertising.


Health Risks of Using Plastic

First off, we need to look at how plastic is typically manufactured.  You may not realize it but plastic is a petroleum product.  Can you believe that!?  According to the US Energy Information Administration, “Plastics are produced from natural gas, feedstocks derived from natural gas processing, and feedstocks derived from crude oil refining.”2  Feedstocks are raw materials used to supply an industrial process.  Chemicals commonly found in plastics include Phthalate, Polycarbonate, Polylactic Acid, Polypropylene, DEHP, and the most well known, BPA.  Phthalate is an
endocrine disruptor and may interfere with one’s metabolic function, damage one’s liver and testicles, and cause liver cancer.  DEHP is a known carcinogen and also an endocrine disruptor.BPA, yet another known carcinogen, is particularly dangerous  because in addition to being an endocrine disruptor, it also mimics the hormone estrogen, which can lead to breast, prostate, and ovarian cancer, chromosomal abnormalities, and complications for both pregnant women and their fetuses.   A study in 2011 also found that pregnant women with high levels of BPA are more likely going to have daughters who are hyperactive, prone to depression and have higher levels of anxiety.3  That’s a pretty long and serious list of potentially catastrophic health consequences resulting from exposure to plastic products containing BPA.  Why take the risk when we can easily avoid it?Water bottles containing BPA have also been linked to increased rates of disease in adults.  Individuals with the highest concentrations of BPA in their urine are three times more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease and 2.4 times more likely to have Type 2 diabetes than people with low BPA concentrations.4  Disturbingly, you may not even need to expose yourself to suffer the effects of BPA.  Your mother, and possibly even your grandmother, may have been exposed resulting in raising your chances of developing prostate or breast cancer as an adult.

Canada and Japan both banned the use of BPA in the production of plastic bottles.  Nevertheless, BPA containing bottles are still widely used in the USA.  One can’t help but wonder, “Why?”  No one knows for sure what the long term health outcomes will be. Do we really want our bodies used as an elaborate chemistry experiment?
Water bottles are often shipped in hot shipping containers.
Heat and Plastic
Have you ever drunk water out of a plastic bottle that had been left in a very hot environment.  I have.  In fact, I have repeatedly drunk water out of plastic bottles stored in shipping containers on construction job sites.  Sometimes during the summer months, the temperature in these shipping containers gets over 100 degrees.  You can literally taste the plastic in the water on these very hot days.  This unquestionably has health consequences.  I cringe when I think about it.  It doesn’t even take much exposure to these toxic, carcinogenic chemicals to have an effect upon one’s health.  You may not realize your health has been compromised for 40 years, and by then it will be impossible to trace it back to a particular cause.  Oh, you don’t work in construction and would never drink bottled water stored in a shipping container?  Well, how do you think your bottled water gets shipped around the country?  In a shipping container, of course. After a flurry of damaging news stories about the dangers of plastic, some clever marketing guys came up with “BPA-free” plastic products that are “microwave safe”.  Yea, ok, so the plastic won’t melt or warp.  The problem is when you heat these things in a microwave or elsewhere they may not be so safe.  There’s simply not enough data because the chemicals haven’t been studied long enough.  Bottled water companies increasingly use “BPA-free” plastic, the same trick I fell for, but laced into plastic bottles are other chemicals that can seep out if bottles are exposed to heat or sit around for a long time.5   Scott Belcher, PhD, and his team found when the same new and used polycarbonate drinking bottles were exposed to boiling hot water, BPA was released 55 times more rapidly than before exposure to hot water.6  Consider that little fact that next time you sip or stir your boiling hot coffee with a little plastic straw.  It seems overwhelmingly clear that it is simply safer to avoid using any plastic products.
Bottled Water is a Rip-Off
Think about it.  What are we paying for when we buy bottled water?  Bottled water actually costs more than gasoline, believe it or not.  According to Business Insider, “The [bottled water] industry grossed a total of $11.8 billion on those 9.7 billion gallons in 2012, making bottled water about $1.22/gallon nationwide and 300 x the cost of a gallon of tap water. If we take into account the fact that almost 2/3 of all bottled water sales are single 16.9oz (500 mL) bottles, though, this cost is much, much higher: about $7.50 per gallon, according to the American Water Works Association. That’s almost 2,000 x the cost of a gallon of tap water and twice the cost of a gallon of regular gasoline.”7  When you think about the cost of bottle water in those terms, the thought of paying so much for something that may be extremely unhealthy and is readily available for free becomes really quite silly.

You’re paying for water when you pay your taxes or rent.  It is a service your local government is obligated to provide.  Make them earn it.  Call and complain if your water doesn’t taste right.  Have it tested.  You might as well actually utilize what you are paying for.

Bottled water names and labels always bring to mind the epitome of purity.  It turns out though that approximately 25% of bottled water is sourced from the tap.  Ok, so some companies filter or radiate the tap water with ultraviolet light before selling it to you at several thousand times the cost of their municipal tap source. (Examples include Aquafina, Dasani, and many other brands).8  Don’t be a sucker.  Drink your own filtered tap water.  
Plastic Alternatives
Don’t worry!  You need not let plastic kill you because there are some easy alternatives. First and foremost, stop buying bottled water.  Replace it with a good tap filtration system and some glass or stainless steel water bottles.  I use plain, black stainless steel, 25 ounce bottles and a high quality filter in my refrigerator.  My steel bottles are all dented up, but entirely functional.  You can get them in whatever size, shape, color, and/or design you like.  The options for water filtration are practically limitless.  Many of the options are extremely affordable.  If you don’t have the option of a fridge filter or under sink filter, buy a water pitcher with a built in filter.  You can even get a filter that screws into the spout of your faucet.   Under sink filtration systems are probably the best, but also the most expensive.  If you want to go really crazy, you can even install an under sink alkaline water system that will set you back a few thousand dollars.

Much to my dismay, I had to throw away call my brand new “BPA-free,” “microwavable” plastic containers.  For food consumption, I bought a bunch of glass microwavable containers that I couldn’t be happier with.  I paid less than $25 for five of them, they are air tight, high quality, and while they do have a “BPA-free” plastic top, the plastic need never touch the food nor go in the microwave, and they are airtight. It’s really an easy change that I feel great about.  The cost/benefit analysis of switching to glass is extraordinarily favorable.

 

Sustainability

There’s also nothing sustainable about using plastic products.  The amount of plastic we use is staggering.  It is a reflection of our “throw away” society.  Plastic bottles are not biodegradable in any meaningful way, so what we drink in a few minutes can stick around literally forever, or at least a thousand years.  According to Dr. Christiana Peppard, “Even with recycling efforts, 6 out of 7 plastic bottles consumed in the U.S. are “downcycled”—sent somewhere out of sight and out of mind where, for the next millennia, toxins from degrading plastic containers can leach into watersheds and soil.”9  You need not be a bearded, birkenstock wearing, tree hugging environmentalist to recognize the amount of plastic we generate is a serious, growing problem.  Let’s stop kicking the can down the road for future generations to deal with and start solving this problem.  The sooner we begin meaningfully addressing the issue, the easier it will be to resolve.
Conclusion
You may be wondering, “But John, what does all this stuff about plastic have to do with reversing our age and lengthening our telomeres?”  I’m glad you asked.  You see I look at telomeres as I would look at a stock traded on the New York Stock Exchange.  Its current price, in theory, should reflect what its true value is because everything possibly knowable about the company should be a matter of public record.  All present information about a stock should be built into its price.  The stock’s price can’t see clearly into the future.  I view telomeres pretty similarly.  The length of your telomeres is a reflection of all your life’s known experiences to date.  This includes your exposure to BPA, which, I believe, would affect your telomeres length.  Your telomeres expect you to continue living as you have since birth, gradually shortening a tiny bit with each cell division.  I intend to prove you can substantially change the trajectory of your telomeres’ lengths, much like a stock’s value can change dramatically with improved management of the company.

 

Citations:
1  Blackburn, E. H. 1., & Epel, E. (2017). The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer (First edition.). New York: Grand Central Publishing. pg 267.
2  U.S. Energy Information Administration – EIA – Independent Statistics and Analysis. (n.d.). Retrieved February 04, 2018, from https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=34&t=6
3  15 List of Chemicals in Plastic – Properties – Dangers. (2017, July 17). Retrieved February 04, 2018, from https://azchemistry.com/list-of-chemicals-in-plastic
4  Lee, K. (2017, October 03). The Negative Effects of Using Plastic Drinking Bottles. Retrieved February 04, 2018, from https://www.livestrong.com/article/183101-the-negative-effects-of-using-plastic-drinking-bottles/
5  Peppard, Christiana Z. “7 Reasons To Never Drink Bottled Water Again.” Mindbodygreen, 3 Oct. 2013, www.mindbodygreen.com/0-11193/7-reasons-to-never-drink-bottled-water-again.html.
6  (n.d.). Retrieved February 04, 2018, from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080130092108.htm
7  Boesler, M. (2013, July 12). Bottled Water Costs 2000 Times As Much As Tap Water. Retrieved February 05, 2018, from http://www.businessinsider.com/bottled-water-costs-2000x-more-than-tap-2013-7
8  Peppard, Christiana Z. “7 Reasons To Never Drink Bottled Water Again.” Mindbodygreen, 3 Oct. 2013, www.mindbodygreen.com/0-11193/7-reasons-to-never-drink-bottled-water-again.html.
9  Peppard, Christiana Z. “7 Reasons To Never Drink Bottled Water Again.” Mindbodygreen, 3 Oct. 2013, www.mindbodygreen.com/0-11193/7-reasons-to-never-drink-bottled-water-again.html.

Comments

  1. thecountofzero

    What are your thoughts on fluoride intake in tap water? This is why I drink Poland Spring bottles, but the plastic bottles do concern me. Even though the BPA levels are extremely small, they are not non-existent. Do you suggest a whole house reverse osmosis filter?

    1. John Loehr

      Count Zero,

      Thank you for the excellent question. Your question is so good, in fact, that it warrants its very own blog post. Expect a lengthy post on the subject sometime in the spring. You will be mentioned.

      I think you are correct to have concerns about fluoride. According to Professor Philippe Grandjean of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health,

      “We should recognize that fluoride has beneficial effects on dental development and protection against cavities. But do we need to add it to drinking water so it gets into the bloodstream and potentially into the brain? To answer this, we must establish three research priorities.

      First, since dental cavities have decreased in countries both with and without water fluoridation, we need to make sure we are dosing our water with the proper amount of fluoride for dental medicine purposes, but no more.

      Second, we need to make sure fluoridation doesn’t raise the risk of adverse health effects. In particular, we need basic research on animals that would help us understand the mechanisms by which fluoride may be toxic to the developing brain.

      Third, we need to find out if there are populations highly vulnerable to fluoride in drinking water—bottle-fed infants whose formula is made with tap water, for example, or patients undergoing dialysis. If these individuals are at risk, their water must come from a source that is lower in fluoride.”1

      We all must constantly make decisions, weighing the pros and cons of each, along with the risk-reward or cost-benefit analysis. In my view, I am more concerned about ingesting BPA or other proven carcinogenic chemicals than I am about fluoride. I do, however, have an open mind and could be convinced that fluoride is the worse of two evils, if presented with compelling data.

      Given the amount of water from plastic bottles you drink, you may wish to have your urine tested for BPA, Phthalates, and Parabens levels. Be forewarned, the test is expensive at about $700.

      The last part of your question made me chuckle because it made me recall a scene in the new Amazon Prime Series Jean Claude Van Johnson in which JCVD had a guest who was asking him why she was all sticky after taking a shower. He replied, “I had the entire house plumbed with coconut water.”

      So, you are correct in that most filters cannot remove fluoride. The three types of filters that can remove fluoride are reverse osmosis, deionizers (which use ion-exchange resins), and activated alumina.2 Even those filters only remove about 90% of fluoride. And yes, if you wanted to obtain the best benefit, having an entire home system would be ideal because we may absorb fluoride through our skin. The problem is, it can get really expensive, really quickly.

      Personally, I am most interested in Alkaline Water systems. Again, much to my dismay, they are extremely expensive.

      Interestingly, there is a new RAW drinking water movement. Most of the news I read on the subject says Raw water is bad and will make you sick. Yet, proponents of Raw water make some compelling arguments.

      Thanks Again for the Great Question,

      John

      Citations:
      1 Is Fluoridated Drinking Water Safe? (2016, August 17). Retrieved February 07, 2018, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/magazine/magazine_article/fluoridated-drinking-water/

      2 Fluoride Action Network. Accessed February 07, 2018. http://fluoridealert.org/content/top_ten/.

  2. El Jefe

    Hi John

    I am back again with another question. Will a pitcher with a filter such as brita or pur actual filter out lead? While I understand bottled water is overpriced and the plastic may be harmful; I feel confident, maybe naively, that the bottled water is tested daily and safe to drink.

    While I am sure it is a long shot, I don’t want to be drinking water like the poor people of Flint, for example. How good are those charcoal filters or in your opinion is the risk of my tap water be tampered with overblown?

    BTW, have you seen the documentary Tapped?

    1. John Loehr

      El Jefe,

      Thanks for yet another great question.

      You may want to read Count Zero’s similar comment/question and my response too it.

      Some cheaper pitcher filters do, in fact, filter lead. You’d have to read the label of each to determine what, specifically, a given filter actually filters. If you’re really concerned about lead, you may want to consider installing a reverse osmosis filter. They aren’t cheap, but they aren’t super expensive either.

      What is “safe” is not necessarily the same as what is “healthy” or what will enable you to live the longest. Bottled water is tested and regulated by the EPA and FDA. You are not likely to get E Coli from drinking bottled water, but you may ingest mold and will most certainly ingest “acceptable” levels of plastic chemicals including phthalate, DEHP, and BPA. You may obtain a test that will measure the quantity of these chemicals in your urine, but it is rather expensive.

      While doing research to answer your question, I found a fantastic website:

      https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/#.Wny–3anGM8

      According to this site, I learned my tap water contains a carcinogenic chemical called hexavalent above acceptable health guidelines. I’m glad my water filter eliminates hexavalent! I urge you to visit the website and check your own zip code’s water.

      I have not seen the documentary “Tapped,” but will watch it this weekend. Thank you for the suggestion.

      Thanks Again,

      John

  3. Me

    I read the article about drinking tap water instead of bottled water because the plastic containers may be harmful. Unfortunately most tap water is piped to homes through pvc (plastic) pipes which is most likely far worse than plastic bottles.

    1. John Loehr

      Me,

      Most waste pipe is PVC. Feed lines today are typically PEX. Nevertheless, you have a point because they are both plastic products. There are no absolutely safe methods of delivering water. Even copper pipe has lead soldered joints.

      So, we are always faced with decisions. What is best? What is the lesser of two evils? I believe drinking and eating out of plastic containers is generally not the best option, especially if the containers are heated. There really aren’t any good studies on leeching from PEX/PVC pipes, though it wouldn’t surprise me if it occured. I do not, however, think it is as bad as regularly drinking bottled water. That has been studied extensively. Furthermore, you can actually measure it’s effect on your body.by having your urine tested for BPA, Phthalates, and Parabens levels. The test costs about $700.

      I think another commentor’s comment about flouride is a more legitimate concern. This commentor mentioned a whole house reverse osmosis filter, which I think is a great option if you can afford it.

      I will be posting a blog on just water in the spring in which I intend to address all these issues.

      Thanks for the Comment,

      John

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