Two years ago, everyone was panicking over news that bisphenol-A, a chemical used in making polycarbonates that could act like the female growth hormone estrogen, could leach out of Nalgene bottles. Studies blamed bisphenol-A (BPA) for enlarged breasts and reduced penis size in boys, obesity and early puberty in girls. As people packed in the polycarbonates, SIGG was happy to accept a huge increase in sales, with their claim that their bottles tested BPA-free. They even made sippy cups for babies to replace the polycarbonate bottles that are being banned. Websites recommended them; the big retailer Patagonia did joint ventures with them.
But many had doubts about the lining of the SIGG bottles, and a year ago we asked specifically if the linings had BPA in them. Steve Wasik, the president, claimed that the lining was proprietary, and he couldn't tell us what was in it, but claimed:
"Very thorough migration testing in laboratories around the world is conducted regularly and has consistently shown SIGG aluminum bottles to have no presence of lead, phthalates, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), bisphenol-A (BPA), bysphenol-B (BPB) or any other chemicals which scientists have deemed as potentially harmful."
But the tests for bisphenol-A measure in parts per billion, and hormones work in our bodies at the parts per trillion level. And it turns out that Wasik was very carefully parsing his statements to hide the fact that his bottles were lined with a high-quality epoxy that didn't leach detectable levels of BPA but, like all epoxy resins, was made with the stuff. Remember that the danger of BPA is still controversial; the Food and Drug Administration is still saying it is harmless, and even the Canadian government, which was the first to demand its removal from baby bottles, is still calling it safe for other uses.
At Patagonia, they think he lied. "We very clearly asked SIGG if there was BPA in their bottles and their liners, and they clearly said there was not." But most communication from SIGG is just very economical with the truth. SIGG quietly changed its liner formula to eliminate BPA last year but did not recall its older bottles. It took an investigative report by SNEWS, an outdoor and fitness industry trade journal, to blow the story wide open. They concluded:
"Leaching is not really the question, though. It was and is a simple question of lining content. Did the linings contain BPA? Yes, the answer is, they did. Only now that Laken and SIGG both have a new, BPA-free lining are we finding this out for certain. ... On one level, if you are selling a product as something it is not, that alone is false advertising. On a more ethical level, if consumers buy a product from you and they believe it to be BPA-free because of information on signs, in catalogs or told to them by a salesperson, and then they find out it is not BPA-free, we suspect most would be more than a bit upset at all parties involved."
Are old SIGG bottles dangerous? Probably not. They still consistently test to leach no BPA at the lowest levels of detection, and you are already swimming in BPA from your canned food and many other sources. BPA is used to make the white epoxy lining in tin cans and has been detected in the lids of glass bottled organic baby food. Even if you can your own fruits and vegetables, if you use metal lids, you are exposed to BPA.
It is certainly way lower than the polycarbonate bottles that it replaced and is no longer an issue, as SIGG has now offered to replace bottles free of charge (although the customer has to pay for the shipping) so you are not stuck with an old one. If you have a no-name knockoff aluminum water bottle, you should probably consider replacing it.
The real story here was an issue of transparency and trust. We went to SIGG because we believed they did not contain BPA. We were bamboozled by the language "does not leach BPA," which turns out to be a very different thing.
What can you do to avoid BPA in your and your kids' diet?
Most manufacturers are now making clear bottles with TRITAN, a BPA-free copolyester. When people say "it's new, what dangers will it turn out to have?" remember that BPA was developed as a synthetic estrogen. I don't know what genius thought that this might be a good thing to put into little boys, but that is the problem, not that it was plastic. Klean Kanteen and others also offer stainless steel bottles that do not have any liners. See Treehugger's list of alternatives here.
Carry a cup and drink tap water instead of carrying a bottle.
Avoid foods that come packed in cans lined with epoxy, particularly baby foods and formula. Even bottled baby food comes with lids lined with epoxy and have tested positive for BPA.
At the office, get rid of the water cooler with its big polycarbonate jug and get a good water filter instead.