After I finished my talk about the hazards of bisphenol A at Powell's City of Books in Portland, Oregon last week, I immediately reached beneath the podium and took a swig from my reusable Sigg water bottle.
The polite applause subsided, and one of the first to ask questions was a middle-aged man in the front row. "What's that blue thing you're drinking from? Does it have BPA in it?" As it turns out, the good man's questions require an answer far more nuanced than the one I gave him the other night.
If you've not heard, BPA is a chemical used for making polycarbonate plastic baby bottles and sippy cups. It's also a material in the resin linings that coat metal food cans (think soup, beans and the fruits and veggies in your pantry) and beverage containers, (think Coke, Pepsi and all the brands that wish they were).
No one, not even BPA manufacturers, disputes that BPA, which mimics the hormone estrogen, leaches from polycarbonate containers and metal-can linings into what we eat and drink. So, in light of dozens of independent, peer-reveiwed laboratory studies that show BPA causes troubling effects, and that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has found BPA in nine out of 10 Americans, the Food and Drug Administration has promised a new safety assessment of BPA by Nov. 30.
In the meantime, Connecticut and Michigan, the city of Chicago, three counties in New York and the entire country of Canada have banned BPA in certain products intended for children. Nearly two dozen jurisdictions -- including the U.S. Congress -- are currently considering bans.
Personally, I'd rather be safe than sorry. So I got rid of my reusable polycarbonate plastic water bottle three years ago as I was researching my book, The Body Toxic: How the Hazardous Chemistry of Everyday Things Threatens Our Health and Well-being (North Point Press/Farrar, Straus and Giroux).
I learned how stacks of peer-reviewed studies plausibly link BPA to infertility, prostate and breast cancers, a decline in semen quality, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. And I saw chemical manufacturers using tricks straight out of Big Tobacco's playbook in an attempt to downplay the hazards of BPA.
When I purchased a new reusable water container, I chose an aluminum Sigg bottle festooned in a cheery, blue-plaid pattern. Any concern that the shiny coppery-bronze interiors of Sigg bottles might contain and leach BPA was allayed by the company's assurances that its "proprietary" lining was "totally inert and imparts absolutely no chemicals into the beverage."
Soon, my editor, my agent, my friends and my family were sipping from colorful Siggs, too.
So imagine my outrage when I learned last Friday that the closely guarded secret ingredients of the lining inside all Sigg bottles made before August 2008 contain traces of BPA.
Sigg posted the information on its web site along with an announcement about its new BPA-free lining, which Sigg said has been in development since 2006 at a cost of $1 million. To reassure consumers like me who adapted early to Sigg bottles, the company stated that its BPA-containing bottles "were thoroughly and regularly tested...and all tests revealed absolutely no migration or leaching of BPA or any other substance."
This is greenwashing at its worst. Sigg rode a wave of growing concerns about BPA, selling lot after lot of its products to people who believed they were reducing the risk of exposure to BPA by switching from reusable polycarbonate plastic drinking bottles.
Then, in order to tout its new BPA-free product (as many of its competitors already are doing), Sigg copped to the presence of BPA in its older products, and asked customers to take its word that testing (paid for by the company) confirms that the old linings don't leach BPA.
If you write to Sigg to complain, the company is offering a free replacement -- providing you pay the postage to send in your old BPA-containing bottle.
"We want our current and potential customers to have the facts," said Steve Wasik, CEO of Sigg.
Well, Mr. Wasik, this former customer wishes you'd been straight with the facts from the beginning.
As much as I admire Sigg's hip graphics and commitment to weaning us off throwaway water bottles, I won't be sending in my old Sigg bottle for a replacement. Why should I condone corporate doublespeak or claims of "proprietary" business information that conveniently cloud the facts?
Instead, I'll be applying the cost of postage to the purchase of a BPA-free product from one of Sigg's competitors.
Good-bye Sigg. Hello Klean Kanteen.