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Reusing Plastic Bottles Causes Cancer Hoax

Email claims that reusing plastic bottles can lead to the ingestion of cancer causing chemical agents (Full commentary below).


Example:(Submitted via email, August 2004)
Many are unaware of poisoning caused by re-using plastic bottles. Some of you may be in the habit of using and re-using your disposable mineral water bottles (eg. Evian, Aqua, Ice Mountain, Vita, etc), keeping them in your car or at work. Not a good idea. In a nutshell, the plastic (called polyethylene terephthalate or PET) used in these bottles contains a potentially carcinogenic element (something called diethylhydroxylamine or DEHA).

The bottles are safe for one-time use only; if you must keep them longer, it should be or no more than a few days, a week max, and keep them away from heat as well. Repeated washing and rinsing can cause the plastic to break down and the carcinogens (cancer- causing chemical agents)can leach into the water that YOU are drinking. Better to invest in water bottles that are really meant for multiple uses. This is not something we should be scrimping on. Those of you with family - please advise them, especially for their children's sake."

In spite of the claims made in this email forward, there is no credible scientific evidence that reusing plastic bottles can lead to cancer.


Plastic Water Bottle
The PET plastics used in such bottles have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and similar organizations in other nations. Furthermore, DEHA is not classified as a human carcinogen and is not considered to pose any significant health risk to humans.

The hoax email originated from a University of Idaho student's masters thesis. However, although the student's findings were taken up by the mainstream media, the FDA did not review the thesis nor was it published in any scientific or technical journal. Furthermore, the thesis incorrectly identifies DEHA as a carcinogenic element when this is not the case. According to the American Plastics Council website the thesis "did not reflect a level of scientific rigor that would provide accurate and reliable information".

Moreover, DEHA is not present in PET either as a raw material or as a decomposition product. Although the Idaho student detected DEHA, this was most likely due to laboratory contamination. An article about the warning message on South Africa's Food Advisory Consumer Service website states that:
"The fact is that DEHA is not inherent in PET as a raw material or as a decomposition product of PET. DEHA is approved for food contact applications and would not pose a health risk even if it were present. It is commonly used as a plasticiser in many other plastic items, used on a daily basis. It is presumed that the DEHA detected in PET bottles by the student at Idaho University probably originated from other plastic components in the laboratory environment.
Reusing plastic bottles can be a health risk in that improper cleaning could lead to the ingestion of harmful bacteria. Unless careful cleaning of the container is carried out, potentially dangerous bacteria could be left behind. However, the potential for bacterial contamination applies to other types of container such as glass, not just plastic. While the bacterial health risk of reusing plastic bottles does need to be considered, the cancer related claims in this email forward are unfounded.

Food and Drug Administration
International Bottled Water Association Website
Polyethylene Terephthalate Migration and Toxicity
The Safety of Plastic Beverage Bottles
Food Advisory Consumer Service

Write-up by Brett M.Christensen