Well, it depends on who you ask. Nalgene, probably the best known maker of the hard, plastic water bottles that adults use, says “Of course not!” but they are still phasing out their polycarbonate lines. (Polycarbonate is that rigid, clear plastic that almost all of their bottles were made of.) Nalgene, along with many other bottle companies, are phasing out polycarbonates due to consumer pressure around Bisphenol A (BPA).
BPA was also found in almost all baby bottles, and is the chemical behind the Toxic Baby Bottle headlines that have littered the news recently. BPA has been linked to endocrine disruption, acting similar to estrogen in the body. One government-funded panel of experts linked the chemical to increased risk of reproductive problems, obesity, and breast and prostate cancer. A second panel wasn’t so sure, but both agreed that there might be behavioral impacts, such as ADHD, caused by BPA that could effect children.
Almost every one in this country has BPA in his or her blood. It comes not only from polycarbonate water bottles and baby bottles, but also from almost every metal can you use (whether for food or drink). At question, is just how much BPA is enough to be dangerous. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has very recently put together an agency-wide task force to further exam the issue. Right now, however, they say “we believe [emhasis is mine] there is a large body of evidence” to suggest that exposure levels “are below those that may cause health effects.”
The National Toxicology Program (an interagency government program established by the US Dept. of Health and Human Services) says they think we should be concerned, especially for our children. “The scientific evidence that supports a conclusion of some concern for exposures in fetuses, infants, and children comes from a number of laboratory animal studies reporting that “low” level exposure to bisphenol A during development can cause changes in behavior and the brain, prostate gland, mammary gland, and the age at which females attain puberty.”
Everyone has called for more study.
In the meantime, The Center for Science in the Public Interest’s senior nutritionist says, “It makes sense for all parents, and especially pregnant and nursing women, to minimize the exposure of their kids’ developing bodies and brains to BPA.” (By the way, they have a great review of the issues at stake with BPA and the science behind it.)
Many companies, under pressure from consumers, have begun to phase-out their polycarbonate bottles. This includes Nalgene and Camelbak as well as many baby bottle manufactures, such as Playtex. Others are just releasing a BPA-free line and keeping their regular, questionably-safe, bottles as well. (Avent is one such company—boo on you, Avent.) Other companies are just continuing on with business as usual. For a complete list of safe bottles, sippy cups, and more, visit: the Z Report on BPA.
What we do in our home
I breastfed ZR and thus we didn’t use bottles all that often. However, I was pretty upset when I discovered that all of the Avent bottles I did have were littered with BPA. I have sense thrown all of them away. (They aren’t recyclable.) I also got rid of every questionable sippy cup and then just recently did the same for my own supply of reusable water bottles. I now have a wonderful selection of bottles both for ZR and for myself that are either made from a light-weight stainless steel or are made with BPA and phthalate-free plastics.
My favorite adult options are the Sigg bottles (which as both an insulated and non-insulated options) and the Think Sport which is insulated (I like the mini).
For toddlers I particularly like the Safe Sippy (it is super-functional and cute). And I also regularly use the insulated sippy cup by Thermos called the Foogo and the Sigg and Think Baby.
For babies it has become increasingly easy to find glass bottles. If you want really cute, seemingly unbreakable options, I recommend the Siliskin Glass bottles which have a cool, silicone outer layer around the glass. Green to Grow and Think Baby make nice BPA-free plastic bottles.
Important update: in the many years since I wrote this article originally, the problems with BPA have led Canada to ban them entirely from children’s products (Well, not entirely, but at least ban them). Unfortunately, companies didn’t always choose to replace bisphenol-A with something better, many times they just replaced it with something less tested, e.g. another bisphenol. Thus, plastics, even those with the BPA-free label are still likely to be releasing endocrine disrupting chemicals. And some of the other bisphenols are thought to stick around in the body and thus cause longer lasting damage than even BPA. Read more about common household toxins and how to avoid them.
Check out the Green Mama Ratings and Reviews to see what I am using now for adult and children bottles (we are well past the sippy cup and baby bottle stage now.)