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Reusable Plastic Bottles Release Hundreds Of Chemicals

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Have you ever experienced the strange taste of water after it has been in a reusable plastic bottle for a while? It appears that there is a solid, yet worrying reason for this.

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Two chemists from the University of Copenhagen have studied which chemical substances are released into liquids by popular types of soft plastic reusable bottles. The results were quite a surprise.

“We were taken aback by the large amount of chemical substances we found in water after 24 hours in the bottles. There were hundreds of substances in the water – including substances never before found in plastic, as well as substances that are potentially harmful to health. After a dishwasher cycle, there were several thousand,” says Jan H. Christensen, Professor of Environmental Analytical Chemistry at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences.

Endocrine disruptors and insecticide

Professor Christensen and fellow researcher Selina Tisler detected more than 400 different substances from the bottle plastic and over 3,500 substances derived from dishwasher soap. A large portion of these are unknown substances that the researchers have yet to identify. But even of the identified chemicals, the toxicity of at least 70 % remains unknown.

Photo-initiators are among the toxic substances in the water which worry the researchers. These are known to have potentially harmful effects on health in organisms, such as being endocrine disruptors and carcinogens. Furthermore, the researchers found a variety of plastic softeners, antioxidants and release agents used in the manufacture of the plastic, as well as Diethyltoluamide (DEET), commonly known as the active substance in mosquito spray.

Machine washing adds more substances into the bottled water

In their experiments, the researchers mimicked the ways in which many people typically use plastic drinks bottles. People often drink water that has been kept in bottles for several hours. The researchers left ordinary tap water in both new and used drinking bottles for 24 hours, both before and after machine washing, as well as after the bottles had been in the dishwasher and rinsed thoroughly in tap water.

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“What is released most after machine washing are the soap substances from the surface. Most of the chemicals that come from the water bottle itself remain after machine washing and extra rinsing. The most toxic substances that we identified actually came after the bottle had been in the dishwasher – presumably because washing wears down the plastic and thereby increases leaching,” explains postdoctoral researcher and first author Selina Tisler of the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences.

In new reusable bottles, close to 500 different substances remained in the water after an additional rinse. Over 100 of these substances came from the plastic itself.

She emphasizes that they have yet to conclude whether the water in the bottles is harmful to health, as they currently have only an estimate of the concentrations of the substances and toxicological assessments have yet to be completed.

‘Just because these substances are in the water, doesn’t mean that the water is toxic and affects us humans. But the problem is, is that we just don’t know. And in principle, it isn’t all that great to be drinking soap residues or other chemicals,” says Selina Tisler.

“From now on, I’ll use a glass bottle”

“We care so much about low levels of pesticides in our drinking water. But when we pour water into a container to drink from, we unflinchingly add hundreds or thousands of substances to the water ourselves. Although we cannot yet say whether the substances in the reusable bottles affect our health, I’ll be using a glass or quality stainless steel bottle in the future,” says Jan H. Christensen.

The researchers suspect that bottle manufacturers only add a small proportion of the substances found intentionally. The majority have inadvertently occurred either during the production process or during use, where substances may have been converted from other substances. This includes the presence of the mosquito repellent DEET, where the researchers hypothesize that as one of the plastic softeners degrades, it is converted into DEET.

“But even of the known substances that manufacturers deliberately add, only a tiny fraction of the toxicity has been studied. So, as a consumer, you don’t know if any of the others have a detrimental effect on your health,” says Selina Tisler.

Too little knowledge, too leniently regulated

According to the researchers, the results reflect a lack of both knowledge and regulation:

“The study exemplifies how little knowledge there is about the chemicals emitted from the products that our food and drink come in contact with. And, it is a general problem that measurement regulations during production are very lenient. Fortunately, both in Denmark and internationally, we are looking into how to better regulate this area,” says Jan H. Christensen.

In the meantime, Selina Tisler hopes that companies take responsibility on their own accord:

“Hopefully, companies that put their names on reusable plastic bottles will be more careful about the products they purchase from suppliers and perhaps place greater demands on suppliers to investigate the substances found in what they manufacture,” Tisler concludes.

The study results are published in the scientific journal Journal of Hazardous Materials.

14 thoughts on “Reusable Plastic Bottles Release Hundreds Of Chemicals

  • February 17, 2022 at 5:48 pm
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    This makes me wonder about Tupperware that we also store our food and leftovers in? And what about going through a microwave?

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  • February 18, 2022 at 2:57 pm
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    I agree, I also wonder about all the ziplock bags that we store our food into freeze or to keep in the refrigerator. What about the plastic containers are yogurt comes in or our milk comes in I mean the list goes on and on we can be careful we can be informed we can set standards, but in order to remove the product that’s causing problems there needs to be one to replace it. My water bottles are gallon size recyclable but I don’t know if they’re reused,or where do they start with new bottles each time they bottle the water. I would be happy to use our tap water here they would take the fluoride out, which we had no choice in but that’s a whole different problem. Obviously plastic is here to stay until they can find something that’s safer lightweight and cost-effective we just need to be informed and what we’re using and how it’s been tested and what the long-term effects are of the chemicals involved. Great article.

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  • February 18, 2022 at 6:10 pm
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    Something I’ve suspected for a long time….this should then be followed by a study of toxicity of water stored in tanks in the sun for long periods of time especially in Africa…..the water has the same strange taste.

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  • February 18, 2022 at 6:13 pm
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    Plastic releases dioxins when heated. Styrofoam was no different. Glass in endlessly recyclable.

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    • February 19, 2022 at 11:42 pm
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      I love the taste of ANYTHING I eat or drink from a glass bottle! I wish manufacturers still used glass! Nothing taste the same in plastic =(

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      • February 21, 2022 at 6:42 am
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        Plastic is a very pernicious material and it’s effects on our health should be investigated as a matter of urgency. I strongly believe it could be one of the causes of the increased cases of cancer worldwide.

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    • February 20, 2022 at 4:40 pm
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      Disgusting plastics are everywhere and they do not go away. They break down, but never go away. I avoid using them when possible & recycle if I must use them. As another reader stated, we need substitutes. We need to ask the manufacturers to use glass, recycled cardboard, etc. The whole plastic thing is extremely alarming!

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  • February 18, 2022 at 6:42 pm
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    There is no “safe plastic” for the microwave (unless you happen to sell/manufacture said container). Never has been, never will be in our millenia. All we can do is take a deep dive into the “science” offered by said self-interest vendors and make our own choices. …and regulate the hell out of them with *personal liability* by statute. No entity to hide behind, if you are the CEO you and your personal assets are liable.

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  • February 18, 2022 at 8:30 pm
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    I KNEW it!

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  • February 20, 2022 at 9:25 am
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    So go and buy glass bottles and containers.

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  • February 20, 2022 at 9:52 am
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    I stopped drinking out of plastic bottles over 15 years ago. I also bought glass storage containers and only use glass plates and tableware. I definitely avoid acidic foods in plastic (orange juice and tomatoe foods) and even cans (which are lined with plastic). It’s do-able to avoid 80 – 90% of commonly used plastics, it just takes commitment. Don’t think about it being difficult, just decide to do it and do it

    I gave away my microwave in 1995 and never looked back. There have been numerous studies on how they leak radiation and irradiate your food. If pregnant women shouldn’t stand near them then there’s something dangerous coming out of them

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  • February 20, 2022 at 9:06 pm
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    uggggggggh!! I can only assume that recycled plastic is EVEN WORSE for the human body!!!

    :'(

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  • February 20, 2022 at 9:22 pm
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    This is pure fear mongering with no quantifiable data at all. What where “these 500 substances” How many PPM? This is pure BS

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    • February 21, 2022 at 1:24 pm
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      If so explain to us the reason behind the change in taste.

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