BPA-Free Plastic for Drinking Water is Not the Same as Safe

The other day I purchased a 5-gallon plastic jug to hold my alkaline drinking water. Naturally, I checked to make sure it was labeled “BPA Free.” It was. I noticed that the company selling it was out of Laredo, TX. That doesn’t necessarily mean the plastic was manufactured here in the USA – if that means anything anymore. But worse, for all I knew, it could have been imported from China. Sorry folks, I don’t mean to offend anyone with a remark that smacks of ethnocentricity. Nothing against people, just policies. I just feel many of their products are unsafe. The manufacturing process has little regard for product safety, nor does it have laws regulating it.

A small warning light went off in my head for another reason: Under the smallish icon with the words “Bisphenol-A FREE” were the words “RIGID PVC Free of Bisphenol-A.” Something didn’t sit right about that. I wasn’t sure what “RIGID PVC” meant other than the material was made out of PVC. PVC was good, right? I mean, the water that comes into many people’s homes travels through PVC pipes.

What I didn’t check, however, was the number in the triangle on the bottom of the jug that’s coded to indicate the type of plastic the product is made out of and whether it is safe for storing drinking water. That should have been the first check – but I’ll get to that shortly.

I got home, eager to rinse out the bottle and get it ready for my drinking water, which I buy from a trusted local source. I uncapped the lid and immediately got a whiff of something plastic … or it could have been the smell of a chemical – I couldn’t tell which. But whatever it was, it was strong, offensive, and had me puzzled.

This prompted me to check the bottom of the jug. Inside the recycling symbol triangle was the number 3. Without looking at a recycling cheat sheet, I knew that numbers 1 and 2 were considered safe for drinking, but I wasn’t sure about number 3.

Nevertheless, I proceeded to rinse out the jug, first with warm water and grapeseed extract, a natural disinfectant I use regularly with water to spray my produce. The smell remained just as strong. I decided to then use food grade hydrogen peroxide with warm water, shaking it around, making sure to coat every inch of interior surface area, washing the lid separately in hot soapy water. Still the smell.

So I set it on its side, hoping that airing it out would get rid of the odor while I Googled “plastic water bottles.” I found lots of results. I chose the ones at the top of Google’s search list that were the most recent. One was titled “Know Your Plastics” written in June 2015, posted on the website Healthy Child, Healthy World, which turned out to be a non-profit organization of parents who take action to protect children from harmful chemicals. That’s good. These had to be informed people.

HCHW said they had “powerful educational resources” with “groundbreaking research” provided by another nonprofit organization called Environmental Working Group (EWG) whose mission is to “protect human health and the environment.” On their board of directors is a lawyer who managed a large Wisconsin organic dairy cooperative; a physician and 5-time bestselling author who specialized in “identifying and addressing the root causes of chronic illness,” and another member a pediatrician identified as a “leading advocate” for children’s and environmental health and spokesman on environmental issues for the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics. All that sounded impressive.

It turns out the common usage for PVC (or Polyvinyl Chloride) #3 is (and I’m quoting HCHW) “Bibs, mattress covers, commercial-grade plastic wrap, and some types of food and detergent containers.” The description included the warning “Avoid it. The manufacture of PVC creates dioxin, a potent carcinogen that contaminates humans, animals, and the environment. PVC may also contain phthalates to soften it.” The text went on to say that phthalates were hormone-disrupting chemicals linked to male reproductive problems and birth defects. I was dismayed to also read that PVC is “not easily recycled, but some recycling plants will accept it.” Gulp.

The other website, NRDC, posted a 2009 article (a little dated, I suppose, but it was updated in 2012) titled Plastic Water Bottles: Is BPA-Free the Same as Safe? NRDC, touted by the New York Times as “one of the nation’s most powerful environmental groups,” is an environmental action group comprised of more than two million members and online “activists” backed by about 500 lawyers, scientists, and other professionals.

NRDC’s article offered a partial list of recycling codes, including #3. Reading this one left me a little queasy. “#3 (PVC) and 6 (styrene) plastics pose health risks and should be avoided. (They are not ordinarily used for water bottles but are used for other food and beverage containers.)”

So I got curious and started looking at the bottom of my other plastic water containers, some containing purified water, others containing drinking water, another one purchased from my alkaline water store. They were all labeled #2, identified on the NRDC site as HDPE (polypropylene) plastics, “generally regarded as safe.”

But wait … I hadn’t checked my 3-1/2 gallon water jugs, one of which I fill with my store-bought alkaline water, the other with vending machine water that I use only for washing dishes and occasionally washing vegetables. Both were labeled #7. Oh dear … #7 plastic, according to NRDC, “is usually polycarbonate and contains BPA.” One of the jugs also had the words “Approved for Water Use Only,” the other “For Drinking Water Only.” One has to wonder what is meant by those words. “Hey, people, this container isn’t safe, but go ahead, it’s ok to drink water from it.”

I’d like to also mention that both of these jugs come from a local area bottled water service dating back only a few years – 2013 – when the BPA scare was in full swing. The company’s website explains their natural spring water is bottled from a “protected source” at the source, and “not from any municipal source.” I wonder if that was the case in 2013 and during several years prior to that when I was drinking water out of it daily?

Day two: my smelly jug had a chance to air out and yet still gives off a noxious odor. Keeping receipts is something I starting doing a couple months ago. It has come in handy several times already. I’ll get to use the latest receipt to return the big smelly BPA-Free drinking water jug and then stop at my alkaline water store to purchase a safe water container.


For some background understanding, BPA creates estrogens in the body from chemicals which mimic the behavior of natural estrogen. This causes sensitivity – even in low doses – particularly in fetuses, infants, and juveniles. BPA has also been linked to the increase in breast and prostate cancers, heart disease, diabetes, infertility and fetal development problems. BPA can leach into food, water, or whatever is stored in it.

Since the middle of 2012 BPA has been banned nationally for use in baby bottles and children’s drinking cups. Fourteen states and some jurisdictions have taken up laws expanding the list of prohibited BPA children’s products. California restricts the level of BPA allowable in containers used by children under three years of age. At the time of this writing, Washington D.C. appears to have the strongest law. Enacted in 2011, DC’s BPA law prohibits the manufacture, sale or distribution of bottles, cups or containers if they are designed to be filled with food or liquids.

About Alayne

A Texas resident and publisher whose hobby is cooking and writing about cooking.
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