Nick Huebner

A popular item among students, the hard plastic polycarbonate Miami University water bottle has recently been taken off the shelves at the Miami University Bookstore after it was discovered that a main ingredient in the plastic could possibly pose a health risk.

The ingredient in the polycarbonate bottles in question is bisphenol A, or BPA, a compound invented by a Russian chemist in 1891. Scientists discovered that polycarbonate water bottles contain a chemical that mimics the hormones, according to Ben Dobbin, a researcher on the negative effects of polycarbonate bottles, in an online Yahoo news article titled “Polycarbonate Worries.”

“There is still plenty of dispute by researchers in the scientific community whether or not the low doses found in food and beverage containers can be harmful,” Dobbin said in the news article.

Over this past Winter Break, Miami sophomore Adam Harris came across an article in Yahoo News, questioning the safety of polycarbonate water bottles. He said this article raised concern, because shortly before, Harris had purchased a hard plastic water bottle from the Miami University Bookstore.

Curiosity inspired Harris to contact the manufacturer of the water bottle, CamelBak Products, a company out of Petaluma, Calif., which led him to find out that the water bottle he had bought did in fact contain BPA.

Shortly after this discovery, Harris notified the bookstore by sending the original Yahoo News article and the response from the company.

“When they got my article, the bookstore pulled all of the bottles off of the shelves as a precaution,” Harris said. From here, he said the bookstore checked with its supplier and found that all of the water bottles contain BPA. He said the bookstore plans to keep all of the water bottles off of the shelves until further testing is conducted to prove the product’s safety.

“Rarely has a chemical been the subject of such intense scientific scrutiny and still important agencies across the globe agree that there is no danger posed to humans from polycarbonate bottles,” according to Tom Cummins, director of new product research and development at Nalgene and Nunc Brand Products in a press release. “We’ll continue to work closely with our polycarbonate suppliers and monitor research publications and regulatory developments worldwide to ensure the safety of our manufactured products.”

The negative health effects associated with BPA were only found in studies where low doses of the chemical compound were tested on animals. Through examining the comprehensive results of their experiments, scientists worry that the chemical that affects the hormones may cause prostate and breast cancer, hyperactivity, obesity, miscarriages in pregnant women and other reproductive problems, according to the article by Dobbin.

In a study by the National Institutes of Health in August 2007, an expert panel on this issue wrote, “the potential for BPA to impact health is a concern, and more research is clearly needed.”

On the other hand, the Nalgene and Nunc Brand Products Corporation insist that there is little harm in the use of the product.

“Agencies and researchers worldwide have studied the safety of BPA and polycarbonate for 50 years, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration,” said the Nalgene and Nunc Brand Products Corporation in a press release. “Findings of these studies from these agencies indicate that food and beverage containers … do not pose a health risk to humans. As a result, polycarbonate is used in a wide variety of consumer products including baby bottles, water bottles, dental sealants and the lining of most food and beverage containers.”

Whether or not the water bottles are a potential health risk to students, they remain in storage until new experiments are conducted and scientists reach a more concrete conclusion.

According to Mary Neisius, assistant manager of merchandise at the Miami University Bookstore, the water bottles have been a consistent seller as almost 400 to 450 water bottles in six to eight different styles have sold each year, for approximately the last five years.

Many stores that distribute polycarbonate bottles have disregarded the potential health risks and have continued to sell this product, according to Neisius. Neisius added that the idea of companies recalling all their products with BPA in them and having them taken off shelves is not universal, as many corporations do not believe their product poses any danger to the health of consumers.

“If the water bottles are put back on the shelves there will be a disclaimer posted nearby stating there is a questioned chemical in them that could be a health risk,” Neisius said.

In the meantime, Neisius and others who choose which merchandise will be sold at the bookstore are looking into alternative water bottles made of stainless steel and other materials. Sometime this spring CamelBak expects to release its new line of water bottles free of BPA.

“We’re inspired by our customer’s challenge to innovate because it results in constantly better products,” Kathleen Gamboa, a spokesperson for CamelBak. “This change to our Better Bottle is not a product recall and is not based on a safety of defect issue. Rather, it is the introduction of a new reusable bottle to the market which continues the evolution and innovation to an ever-changing product line.”