Breakdown: Chemicals from Plastic Water Bottles Leach into Our Drinks

Article Author: Kira Levenson, Biochemistry Major, Class of 2022, POB Science Translator

We all want to stay hydrated, and this may be the reason why plastic water bottles are everywhere.  They can be flexible, sturdy, reusable, or biodegradable– whatever we need at the moment. In particular, reusable plastic water bottles are touted as an environmentally friendly and reliable alternative to single-use plastic bottles. However, plastic bottles are packed with chemicals that increase their durability and longevity, many of which are endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). Despite having limited information on their known effects on human health, these chemicals continue to be used in plastic bottle production, putting all who use them at potential risk. 

EDCs affect the function of the endocrine system, a crucial and complex regulatory system of signals and responses related to hormonal regulation. Similar to a postal office, this system consists of sending and receiving millions of signals, all of which are vital to human growth, development, reproduction, and more. EDC exposure can disrupt hormonal regulation. This can lead to long-term, and often irreversible, negative effects on one’s health.

Thousands of EDCs are used to make plastic bottles affordable and lasting options. However, many of these EDCs leach from the plastic material into the drink, where they can then be absorbed into the body upon consumption. More often than not, these EDCs are not listed in ingredient lists, not studied, or simply not known to exist.

A recent study published in January 2022 (Tisler and Christensen) analyzed chemical leaching from reusable plastic bottles into drinking water over a 24-hour period. The researchers tested the water left in new bottles, used bottles, and bottles that had been washed using a dishwasher. They used an analysis method called non-target screening to detect the migration of both intentionally- (knowingly added during manufacturing) and unintentionally-added (unknowingly developed through manufacturing) chemicals into the water sample. This method allowed the researchers to compare the observed chemical migration from the plastic bottles to lists of chemicals that were expected to be found in the bottles.

The researchers discovered over 400 plastic-related compounds in the water samples, including many chemicals which are known to be potential endocrine disruptors. The authors highlight that many of these substances have not been found before in previous experiments, which makes their discovery both groundbreaking and concerning for the population using these bottles. However, the lab researchers cautioned that more research is needed to identify and evaluate the nature of the unknown compounds discovered through their initial experiments. 

Additionally, over 3,500 dishwasher-related compounds were observed, even after the washed bottles were rinsed thoroughly with tap water. These compounds come from the dishwasher soap and the dishwashing process. They note that the data also strongly indicates that “the dishwashing process enhanced the leaching of plastic related compounds” (Tisler and Christensen, 2022). 

The researchers recommend that users reconsider their use of reusable plastic water bottles, particularly those marketed as both reusable and biodegradable. They speculate that the biodegradable nature of such bottles may contribute to greater water contamination since biodegradable plastic is designed to break down more easily.

Protect Our Breasts stands by the Precautionary Principle, which advises people to limit usage of, or avoid potential EDCs and other harmful substances when there is no concrete evidence that the compounds are not harmful. Although we don’t know all of the information about plastics and their risks, we have enough evidence to take action now.

Try to reduce your use of plastic bottles one day at a time. Swap out your plastic bottles for glass or stainless steel. If you use a dishwasher, rinse out your bottles after they’ve been cleaned. Most importantly, keep yourself informed and aware of the exposures you may face on a day-to-day basis! 


Source: Tisler, S., & Christensen, J. H. (2022). Non-target screening for the identification of migrating compounds from reusable plastic bottles into drinking water. Journal of Hazardous Materials, 429, 128331.


Disclaimer: The information provided herein is the author’s opinion. Our authors are not scientists. We are not providing medical advice, but simply sharing publicly available information. When we reference data and databases, we do so with the caveat that most are only as good as the data they are based on. While POB strives to make the information as timely and accurate as possible, we make no claims, promises, or guarantees about the completeness, or adequacy of the contents of any site that is shared, and expressly disclaims liability for errors and omissions in the contents of these sites. POB goes to great lengths to avoid declaring shared products as “safe” as there is no legal definition of the word “safe” at this time.

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