Thursday, October 15, 2009

Gaiam admits aluminum bottles leach BPA at nearly 20 times SIGG’s levels

By Jeremiah | October 07, 2009 | 10 comments / Join the conversation!
Gaiam admits aluminum bottles leach BPA at nearly 20 times SIGG’s levels
A week after Z Recommends published an exclusive report that provided extensive evidence that Gaiam water bottles previously marketed as "BPA-free" were likely to contain the endocrine-disrupting chemical bisphenol-A, the company has quietly added information to its retail website which admits to independent lab test results showing leaching levels at 23.8 parts per billion. These findings are more than ten times the detection limit SIGG said revealed no leaching from their own bottles and over 18 times more than the leaching levels found in independent testing of SIGG bottles shared with ZRecs by an anonymous source.

SIGG's revelation of the use of BPA in their aluminum water bottles after years of obfuscation sent the company into a PR tailspin, despite their claims of no leaching, and their readiness with a new BPA-free alternative. In the case of Gaiam, the company itself has admitted to leaching at nearly twenty times that detected in SIGG bottles, in bottles currently being sold, after explicitly marketing them as BPA-free as recently as Spring 2009, claims Gaiam customer service representatives repeated to ZRecs less than a month ago.

Notes added to Gaiam's aluminum water bottle listings read, in part:

Single-use plastic water bottles and reusable plastic bottles made of certain types of hard polycarbonate plastic have been shown to leach toxins including BPA into the water inside the bottle under normal use and care conditions. ...

We also asked our water bottle manufacturer to comprehensively test our aluminum bottles for BPA, using industry-standard test methods. No detectable levels of BPA were found in the gasket, the cap or the coating material in testing under normal use and care conditions.

We also took additional steps to help ensure your safety via independent laboratory tests that go well beyond FDA requirements. An independent lab subjected our aluminum water bottles to continuous extreme heat - nearly 200 degrees Fahrenheit - in an environmental chamber for three days while the bottles were filled with water. Under these extreme conditions, a trace amount of BPA (23.8 parts per billion) was detected in the water inside the bottle. This test was performed under conditions outside the normal use and care conditions we recommend on our product packaging and shopping website. For example, we explain that the bottle should not be washed in a dishwasher or filled with any hot liquids.

(You can find the above statement, and a few other notes, added to listings like the one for the "Gold Medallion" water bottle design, the contents of which we documented with screen captures in our September 30 report.)

The third paragraph in the above excerpt, as well as the phrase "in testing under normal use and care conditions" peppered throughout, are the most significant additions to the text. As for the "extreme conditions" of Gaiam's testing, SIGG's independent lab testing also measured leaching in temperatures of "nearly 200 degrees" (90 degrees Celsius) over a three-day period, and this is no coincidence - testing at 90 degrees Celsius for a three-day window is a standard testing procedure commonly seen in BPA testing, and was likely part of a standard block of tests offered by the testing lab to Gaiam, as it is to other clients by reputable testing labs throughout the world, to provide a relative measure of potential BPA exposure. The relationship between these conditions and the occasional heat exposure any water bottle is likely to see - hand-washing in hot water, being left in a hot car or in the sun, or being dented or otherwise having its epoxy coating scratched or damaged - is unclear, as is Gaiam's position on whether these likely exposures fall under the proscribed "normal use and care" intended to protect the user from the endocrine-disrupting chemical Gaiam previously claimed was not present in its bottles.

Gaiam's admission - made without a press release, letter from the CEO, blog post, or tweet - should be of the greatest concern to pregnant women, many of whom assume Gaiam water bottles are a safe alternative to polycarbonate plastic during pregnancy. We don't often cite specific studies on the health effects from BPA exposure, as theories about specific health effects are still evolving. But the news that comes out in study after study is never good, and its greatest impact for adult users is likely to be in the fetal development of children whose lives may be permanently affected by in utero exposure. Here's some information from one recent study funded in part by the National Institutes of Health and conducted by the Yale University School of Medicine, as described in a report by Science Daily:

BPA has estrogen-like properties and in pregnant animals has been linked to female infertility.

"The big mystery is how does exposure to this estrogen-like substance during a brief period in pregnancy lead to a change in uterine function," said study co-author Hugh Taylor, MD, professor and chief of the reproductive endocrinology section at Yale University School of Medicine.

To find the answer to that question, Taylor and his co-workers at Yale injected pregnant mice with a low dose of BPA on pregnancy days 9 to 16. After the mice gave birth, the scientists analyzed the uterus of female offspring and extracted DNA.

They found that BPA exposure during pregnancy had a lasting effect on one of the genes that is responsible for uterine development and subsequent fertility in both mice and humans. Furthermore, these changes in the offspring's uterine DNA resulted in a permanent increase in estrogen sensitivity. ... The permanent DNA changes in the BPA-exposed offspring were not apparent in the offspring of mice that did not receive BPA injection (the controls). This finding demonstrates that the fetus is sensitive to BPA in mice and likely also in humans, Taylor said.

"We don't know what a safe level of BPA is, so pregnant women should avoid BPA exposure," Taylor said. "There is nothing to lose by avoiding items made with BPA—and maybe a lot to gain."

Why their admission of BPA leaching in bottles they claimed less than a year ago were "BPA-free" merits only a rewrite of their product descriptions and a mildly cautionary "comparison chart" [Update: They have now produced a standalone page compiling this information] is a question we'll leave to consumers and eager class-action lawyers to probe for themselves. But we have a few of our own, which we'll submit to Gaiam's public relations team and publish with a call for a company statement on Gaiam's plans.

Gaiam refused to cooperate with us for our initial story, and has to date declined to issue any public statement about our claims of BPA in their aluminum water bottles, or the company's previous marketing of these bottles as BPA-free.

Updated to add: Another oddity brought up to us by readers and competitors is that Gaiam's "comparison chart" has broadly classified aluminum water bottles as leaching BPA. It is now well-known that SIGG now produces an aluminum water bottle that appears to be BPA-free, and ZRecs has examined testing reports and materials certifications of bottles by LakenUSA that show that that company's own transition to a BPA-free liner for bottles its parent company produces for the U.S. market is complete. We've written about our disappointment with SIGG's new bottle, based both on the high number of bottles sent to market with the liner misapplied and, in our sister site The Tranquil Parent's BPA-Free Water Bottle Showdown, the functionality of their redesigned sport top. We'll discuss the case of LakenUSA, a company that made the transition to BPA-free bottles alongside SIGG but traveled a quite different path to get there, next week.