Endocrine Disruptors in Bottled Water
Disposable water bottles might be one of the most popular products in the modern world with over one million purchased every minute around the globe.1 In the industrialized world, bottled water is mostly a matter of convenience, whereas, in the developing world, it is sometimes the only source of safe water to drink.1 In recent decades, researchers have found that the chemicals used to make these plastic bottles transfer to the drinking water itself. To put it another way, they are poisons in your bottled water.
The chemical toxicity and effects of chemicals transferred to your drinking water from plastic bottles keep escalating.
Two common chemicals used to make plastic bottles strong, flexible, shatter-proof, durable, lightweight and transparent are phthalates and bisphenols (BPA).
These chemicals are known Endocrine Disrupting Compounds, EDCs.
Both of these substances leach to the drinking water in plastic bottles because these chemicals are not chemically bound to the structure of the plastic.2, 3 Other similar chemicals in plastic bottles, also known EDCs include polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) and tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA)2.
What important to know about these chemicals?
For a bit of background, the human endocrine system uses hormones to regulate normal body functions and growth. Phthalates, bisphenols, PBDE, and TBBPA all have similar structures to hormones that occur naturally in the human body.2 Because of this similarity, they are known as “Endocrine Disrupting Compounds,” or EDCs, because they will interact with the endocrine system and interfere with important phases in people’s growth, development, metabolism, and even alter DNA.2
The Health Risks Endocrine Disrupting Compounds
Because the endocrine system plays a crucial role in the development of babies and young children, endocrine disruptors seem to have severe consequences for this vulnerable group. EDCs have been linked to miscarriages and decreased cognitive and physical function in young children, and even ADHD.5,7, 8 EDCs can also interfere with the normal onset of puberty.8 Research shows that pregnant women and young children, almost without exception, are exposed to endocrine disruptors daily and that we are only beginning to uncover the long term consequences.8
For adults, long-term exposure to EDCs leads to a greater risk of obesity, sterility and cancer.3, 9 What’s even more concerning is that there is evidence that these risks can be passed down through the generations when these chemicals modify the genes of reproductive cells.9
This means that what we are exposed to today could have health consequences that reach beyond our own lives and affect the lives of our descendants.
Regulations, yes. But not legally enforceable!
In the U.S., the guidance for phthalates in bottled water are set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) but is not legally enforceable.10 The level set for one kind of phthalate, DEHP, is 0. 006 mg/L.10 The FDA has not set a guidance level for bisphenols, like BPA, in food and water packaging.11 Despite the evidence of health effects already occurring, the FDA deems the current levels of BPA found in food and beverage packaging to be safe.11
There have been recent efforts to create bottles without one of the most well-known bisphenols, called BPA, and you may see products advertised in stores as “BPA-free.” It’s important to know, however, that the product was most likely made with another similar bisphenol compound.6 Bisphenols are a family of chemicals that have similar structures and properties, so don’t let the label fool you into thinking the product is much different, you still have poisons in your bottled water.4, 6
The evidence is mounting that endocrine disruptors found in plastic bottles are causing various negative health effects in people of all ages. While it’s extremely difficult to avoid these types of plastics, we can start by avoiding plastic water bottles and opting for re-usable bottles made out of durable materials like stainless steel or copper. Not only will it reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals, but you’ll also reduce plastic waste.
1. Parker, Laura. “How the Plastic Bottle Went from Miracle Container to Hated Garbage.” National Geographic, 18 Oct. 2019, www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/08/plastic-bottles/
2. Talsness, Chris E. “Components of Plastic: Experimental Studies in Animals and Relevance for Human Health.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, vol. 364, no. 1526, 2009, pp. 2079–2096. NCBI, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2873015/
3. Singh, Sher, and Steven Li. “Epigenetic Effects of Environmental Chemicals Bisphenol A and Phthalates.” International Journal of Molecular Sciences, vol. 13, no. 8, 2012, pp. 10143–10153. NCBI, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3431850/
4. Viñas, René, and Cheryl S. Watson. “Bisphenol S Disrupts Estradiol-Induced Nongenomic Signaling in a Rat Pituitary Cell Line: Effects on Cell Functions.” Environmental Health Perspectives, vol. 121, no. 3, 2013, pp. 352–358. NCBI, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3621186/
5. Sugiura-Ogasawara, Mayumi. “Exposure to Bisphenol A Is Associated with Recurrent Miscarriage.” Human Reproduction, vol. 20, no. 8, 2005, pp. 2325–2329. Oxford Academic, academic.oup.com/humrep/article/20/8/2325/618455
6. Wagner, Martin, and Jörg Oehlmann. “Endocrine Disruptors in Bottled Mineral Water: Total Estrogenic Burden and Migration from Plastic Bottles.” Environmental Science and Pollution Research, vol. 16, no. 3, 2009, pp. 278–286. Springer Link, link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11356-009-0107-7
7. Téllez-Rojo, Martha M. “Prenatal Urinary Phthalate Metabolites Levels and Neurodevelopment in Children at Two and Three Years of Age.” Science of The Total Environment, vol. 461-462, 2013, pp. 386–390. NCBI, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3735862/
8. Braun, Joseph M. “Phthalate Exposure and Childrenʼs Health.” Current Opinion in Pediatrics, vol. 25, no. 2, 2013, pp. 247–254. NCBI, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3747651/
9. Manikkam, Mohan. “Plastics Derived Endocrine Disruptors (BPA, DEHP and DBP) Induce Epigenetic Transgenerational Inheritance of Obesity, Reproductive Disease and Sperm Epimutations.” PLoS ONE, vol. 8, no. 1, 2013. NCBI, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3554682/
10. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “SECG on Bottled Water Quality Standard.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, 2018, www.fda.gov/regulatory-information/search-fda-guidance-documents/small-entity-compliance-guide-establishing-allowable-level-di2-ethylhexylphthalate-bottled-water
11. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “Bisphenol A (BPA): Use in Food Contact Application.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, 2018, www.fda.gov/food/food-additives-petitions/bisphenol-bpa-use-food-contact-application
About The Author:
Kristine Wagner MHS, CPH
Kristine holds a Master of Health Science in Environmental Health and a Certificate in Risk Science from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is a Certified in Public Health Professional by the NBPHE.
She was a Strategic Information Fellow at the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda supporting HIV/AIDS programs in conjunction with the CDC. She worked as a health scientist at Cardno ChemRisk.
As a student, she conducted environmental health research related to oil development in the Ecuadorian Amazon and wrote her graduate thesis on drinking water contamination from hydraulic fracturing.
She is a professional scuba diving instructor (PADI MSDT) and has worked as a diver in Mexico, Thailand, and Turks & Caicos. She also speaks Spanish and French.