Hoaxes & Rumors

Are Plastic Water Bottles Dangerous

Are Plastic Water Bottles Dangerous

Is it unsafe to drink from plastic water bottles, particularly those which have been frozen or left in a hot car?

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Although some of these assertions have debunked by reputable organizations, there are a few chemicals which have been the subject of increased scrutiny in recent years, and debate on the topic continues to rage.

The warning below, for example, has circulated since at least 2007 regarding the alleged dangers of plastic water bottles:

Plastic Bottled Water DIOXIN Danger

Bottled water in your car is very dangerous! On the Ellen show, Sheryl Crow said that this is what caused her breast cancer. It has been identified as the most common cause of the high levels of dioxin in breast cancer tissue..

Sheryl Crow’s oncologist told her: women should not drink bottled water that has been left in a car. The heat reacts with the chemicals in the plastic of the bottle which releases dioxin into the water. Dioxin is a toxin increasingly found in breast cancer tissue. So please be careful and do not drink bottled water that has been left in a car.

Pass this on to all the women in your life. This information is the kind we need to know that just might save us! Use a stainless steel canteen or a glass bottle instead of plastic!

This information is also being circulated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center … No plastic containers in microwaves. No plastic water bottles in freezers. No plastic wrap in microwaves.

Dioxin chemical causes cancer, especially breast cancer. Dioxins are highly poisonous to cells in our bodies. Don’t freeze plastic bottles with water in them as this releases dioxins from the plastic. Recently the Wellness Program Manager at Castle Hospital, was on a TV program to explain this health hazard.

He talked about dioxins and how bad they are for us. He said that we should not be heating food in the microwave using plastic containers….. This especially applies to foods that contain fat.

He said that the combination of fat, high heat and plastic releases dioxin into the food.

Instead, he recommends using glass, such as Pyrex or ceramic containers for heating food… You get the same result, but without the dioxin.. So, such things as TV dinners, instant soups, etc., should be removed from their containers and heated in something else.

Paper isn’t bad but you don’t know what is in the paper. It’s safer to use tempered glass, such as Pyrex, etc.

He reminded us that a while ago some of the fast food restaurants moved away from the styrene foam containers to paper. The dioxin problem is one of the reasons….

Also, he pointed out that plastic wrap, such as Cling film, is just as dangerous when placed over foods to be cooked in the microwave. As the food is nuked, the high heat causes poisonous toxins to actually melt out of the plastic wrap and drip into the food. Cover food with a paper towel instead.

This is an article that should be share to anyone important in your life!

This graphic has been used in 2013 to accompany warnings regarding plastic water bottles.

This graphic circulated in 2013 along with warnings regarding plastic water bottles.

Are dangerous chemicals present in plastic bottles?

Warnings such as the one above typically list one of three substances: Dioxins, DEHA, and BPA. Each has been debated regarding safety, and they have all been used in rumors regarding dangerous chemicals in water bottles. We will take a look at each of these substances in relation to their existence in plastic water bottles.


Dioxins are a group of chemicals that are formed by combustion processes such as burning fuels and incinerating waste. They also occur naturally in such instances as wild fires or volcanic eruptions

Are dioxins found in plastic water bottles?

According to Rolf Halden, assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences and the Center for Water and Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, “There are no dioxins in plastics.” Halden further states that people are primarily exposed to dioxins “mostly from eating meat and fish rich in fat.”

“People should be more concerned about the quality of the water they are drinking rather than the container it’s coming from,” Halden noted.


BPA (Bisphenol A) is an industrial chemical found in hard plastic bottles (such as baby bottles) and food packaging. A current assessment by the FDA shows that BPA “is safe at the current levels occurring in foods.” Some studies suggest, however, that BPA may effect fetuses and young children. This has led to a ban on BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups in many countries – including the US – in July 2012.

Other studies have found a higher risk of hypertension, and heart or peripheral artery disease.

Is BPA found in plastic water bottles?

Lynn R. Goldman, professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences, and Kellogg Schwab, associate professor and director of the School’s Center for Water and Health noted: “Most single-use water bottles sold in the United States are made from BPA-free plastic, but some reusable containers are made from plastic containing BPA. Given a choice, a product absent of BPA should be considered. It is a good idea to bring water with you for long car trips and activities like sports and hiking. Since these water supplies are likely to be in hot vehicles and in the hot sun, BPA-free containers should be considered. Remember to clean reusable bottles between uses and let them dry upside down so they are ready the next time you need them.”

Another often-overlooked source of BPA is cans. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Reduce your use of canned foods since most cans are lined with BPA-containing resin.”

There is a way to determine if some plastics contain BPA by viewing the recycle code on the container. The FDA points out, however, “Some, but not all, plastics that are marked with recycle codes 3 or 7 may be made with BPA.”


DEHA is a chemical present in some plastics.

Is DEHA found in plastic water bottles?

According to Cancer Research UK, “there is no convincing evidence that DEHA is actually present in plastic bottles or plastic wraps.”

The American Cancer Society also refuted warnings regarding DEHA and plastic water bottles:

These emails are apparently based on a student’s college thesis. In fact, DEHA is not inherent in the plastic used to make these bottles, and even if it was the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says DEHA “cannot reasonably be anticipated to cause cancer, teratogenic effects, immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity, gene mutations, liver, kidney, reproductive, or developmental toxicity or other serious or irreversible chronic health effects.” Meanwhile, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), says diethylhexyl adipate “is not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans.”


The warning above fails to cite another often-discussed substance found in water bottles (and other containers): phthalates. The Natural Resources Defense Council suggests that phthalates are a potential concern. Although they state that “Most bottled water appears to be safe,” and that, “of the bottles we tested, the majority proved to be high quality and relatively free of contaminants…about 22 percent of the brands we tested contained, in at least one sample, chemical contaminants at levels above strict state health limits.” They also pointed out that glass bottles contained phthalates.

Recent research suggests that there could be cause for concern, and that the issue should be studied closely. Studies have shown that chemicals called phthalates, which are known to disrupt testosterone and other hormones, can leach into bottled water over time. One study found that water that had been stored for 10 weeks in plastic and in glass bottles contained phthalates, suggesting that the chemicals could be coming from the plastic cap or liner. Although there are regulatory standards limiting phthalates in tap water, there are no legal limits for phthalates in bottled water — the bottled water industry waged a successful campaign opposing the FDA proposal to set a legal limit for these chemicals.

Phthalates are found in a variety of plastic products. The CDC does not mention water bottles in its fact sheet on phthalates.

A series of studies, summarized by this author, suggests that bottles made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) may leach phthalates into the contents.

A growing literature links many of the phthalates with a variety of adverse outcomes, including increased adiposity and insulin resistance (Grün and Blumberg 2009), decreased anogenital distance in male infants (Swan et al. 2005), decreased levels of sex hormones (Pan et al. 2006), and other consequences for the human reproductive system, both for females and males.

The conditions which appear to contribute to elevated phthalates are “prolonged storage and elevated temperature.” It isn’t just bottled water, however. Plastic soda bottles, and even plastic salad dressing containers could all contain elevated phthalates if they were stored in a warm warehouse for a month or longer.

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Rolf Halden, in the same piece which debunks many of the claims about dioxins, notes, “If you heat up plastics, you could increase the leaching of phthalates from the containers into water and food.”

Although phthalates are often the subject of discussion regarding plastics, their effects on humans are unknown. The FDA summarizes phthalates in the following manner:

It’s not clear what effect, if any, phthalates have on human health. An expert panel convened from 1998 to 2000 by the National Toxicology Program (NTP), part of the National Institute for Environmental Safety and Health, concluded that reproductive risks from exposure to phthalates were minimal to negligible in most cases.


In 2014, a series of articles noted that BPA-free plastic bottles contain “BPA replacements” such as Tritan which were said to be “no safer than those with BPA.” Those articles reference CeriChem founder George Bittner, a neurobiology professor who has researched commercial plastics. Bittner found that almost all commercial plastics he tested leached synthetic estrogens, even without exposure to heat or sunlight.

Bittner’s findings prompted legal action by Eastman Chemical, the company which manufactures Tritan. “Eastman also sued CertiChem and its sister company, PlastiPure, to prevent them from publicizing their findings that Tritan is estrogenic, convincing a jury that its product displayed no estrogenic activity,” MotherJones reported. Eastman launched a product safety campaign, as seen in their “Experts in Plastic Product Safety” video.

Bottom Line

Some of the warnings regarding the consumption of dangerous chemicals in plastic water bottles are unfounded, and have been refuted by a wide range of reputable sources. BPA, phthalates, and other chemicals do have the potential to leach into the contents of plastic containers – especially under high heat – but the effects of these substances on humans are still under investigation.

Dr. Karin Michaels, who has published a study on BPA, said she avoids cans and bottles, even if they are labeled BPA free. “It doesn’t have bisphenol A, but on the other hand I worry that the new chemical they put in there may also be a problem,” she told the NY Times in 2014. “Exchanging one chemical for another doesn’t make me feel comfortable.”

The subject of plastic bottle safety is an ongoing debate, with no immediate conclusion in sight. With experts weighing in on both sides of the debate, it is difficult for consumers to make an educated decision. Avoiding all plastics and cans is probably an unreasonable goal for most consumers.

So, while leaving a water bottle in a hot car may not present any additional dangers, there are experts who would suggest that you should avoid that bottle in the first place.

Additional Sources

Updated May 6, 2015
Originally published February 2013

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