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Are Plastic Bottles Really Hazardous to my Health?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Some plastic bottles are believed to be potentially hazardous to human health, because they contain chemicals which could cause health problems. As a quick rule of thumb, hard plastics numbered 2, 4, or 5 are generally believed to be safe, while plastics labeled 1, 3, and 7 are believed to be potentially hazardous, especially if they are reused. Because of concerns about the safety of plastic bottles, some consumers prefer to use metal or glass bottles for their beverages.

Several chemicals used in the manufacture of certain plastics are of concern. The first is bisphenol-A (BPA) which is known to be an endocrine disrupter, meaning that it causes a hormone imbalance. BPA has been linked to cancers in lab animals, and there is some concern that it could also cause cancers in humans. BPA is most notably present in Lexan, a hard plastic which carries the number 7; Lexan bottles were often sold as an environmentally friendly long-use water bottle before the risks of BPA were fully realized.

Another chemical of concern in plastic bottles is Bis(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP), a chemical which is used as a plasticizer. DEHP is present in flexible plastics with numbers like 1 and 3; these plastics are often designed for single use, and not intended for extended re-use. DEHP is also believed to have a potential for endocrine disruption, and it has been linked with obesity in some studies. Other chemicals used in the manufacture of plastics can include things like chlorine, which are not generally good for human health.

The chemicals present in plastic bottles can leach into their contents in a number of ways. Extended regular use can result in leaching, and leaching can be accelerated by damage to the bottle, heat exposure, and cleaning agents. As chemicals leach into the contents of the bottle, they pose a risk to anyone drinking from the bottle, who might ingest those chemicals unwittingly. For people who use a lot of plastic bottles, long-term exposure through leaching could lead to health problems in the future.

Plastics labeled with a “1” are designed to be used once, and then recycled. Such plastics are generally believed to be safe for a single use, which explains why they are widely used to package soft drinks, but some people feel that they should not be re-used. Reuse of these plastic bottles could put consumers at risk of leaching and DEHP exposure.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Mor — On Feb 14, 2015

@MrsPramm - If you want to have a long term safe plastic bottle then get one is being sold by a reputable sports store or something like that. It's not compulsory for people to buy bottles from stores and then reuse them. Reuse is better than nothing, I suppose, but even better than that is not buying disposable bottles in the first place.

By MrsPramm — On Feb 13, 2015

@browncoat - Well, that's probably a universal problem, but I'd still be wary about different kinds of plastic in temporary bottles. Especially now that people are becoming more eco-conscious and plastic is often made to be biodegradable. If it is made to break down over time, then it could break down into the water you're drinking if you keep it for too long.

By browncoat — On Feb 13, 2015

Apparently the main problem with plastic bottles is not that the plastic is going to leach chemicals into the water, but that bacteria can form in them.

I will usually buy a bottle of water and then just refill the bottle over and over so I'm not wasting plastic. But apparently after a while the bottles can become a bit of a health hazard, because they have so many little nooks and crannies around the lid where bacteria can grow, and they are usually clear, giving the bacteria the sunlight and warmth they need to make a home.

Which is not to say that you shouldn't reuse bottles, but you should definitely wash them regularly and replace them before they get too old.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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