Science Questions

Can reusing plastic bottles alter fertility?

Sat, 20th Oct 2012

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Rosemary asked:

Is there a possiblity of infertility and drinking water out of used plastic bottles?


Chris - This is an interesting and emerging area because the question everyone is beginning to consider (I was going to say the question on everyone’s lips, but that’s a bit of too bad a pun for drinking bottles).  It’s becoming clear that the bottles and the plastics that we use in our everyday lives contain chemicals which we now regard as endocrine disruptors.  These are chemicals that can mimic the behaviour of certain hormones in the body especially female hormones. 

One of these chemicals is called bisphenol A and there are also chemicals leaking out of other types of plastic which get into the contents.  I did read one paper which was published a couple of years ago by a guy called Martin Wagner who’s a researcher at the University of Frankfurt in Germany on this subject and what he and his team did was to go to their supermarket and they bought a very large cluster of plastic bottles containing mineral water.  This wasn’t mineral water that had been made artificially, this really was mineral water out of the ground. 

They emptied all of the water out of the bottles and they refilled the bottles, and they also took a second group of glass bottles and filled both with laboratory grade water which they knew was pure.  They put into the bottles some snails.  They're in fact snails called New Zealand mud snails and they kept them in the bottles, feeding them in ideal circumstances for a couple of months, and they then totted up the reproductive rate of the snails.  The animals kept in the glass bottles had half as many embryos as the animals that were kept in the plastic bottles and it was a statistically significant result.

Martin Wagner’s interpretation is that there is something leaking out of the bottle which is getting into the water which is acting as an estrogenic-like chemical in these snails and making them more reproductively active and therefore, the extension to that is that if we’re using the same product, we’re almost certainly exposing ourselves.  But obviously, we’re not a snail, so you’ve got to interpret it slightly cautiously.

At the same time, returning to Rosemarie’s question, if you re-use a plastic bottle, is that a risk?  Well actually, you'd argue, the more times you use a plastic bottle, the less risk there is because by the time the plastic bottle has been used to the point where it falls apart, you’ve actually drunk all of the endocrine disruptors that were in it, so the concentration is getting lower and lower all the time, so it’s getting less and less bad for you.  The more you use it, it’s probably worse for you when you have a new one.


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I don't like to discard plastic bottles after a single use, so I refill them and take them to the gym. Sometimes it is a week between using the plastic bottle; sometimes it has spent time sitting in the car in the hot sun, which could accelerate any leaching.

In case some chemicals have leaked out of the plastic since the last time I used it, I follow 4 easy steps to minimise my exposure to a somewhat uncertain risk:

tip out any remaining water,

give it a quick rinse with fresh water,

refill it with clean water,

which I consume soon after.

...or you could just buy a metal water bottle, like the one my wife purchased for me a month ago. evan_au, Sat, 27th Oct 2012

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