Retailers were pulling polycarbonate baby bottles and water jugs off store shelves last week because of concern about bisphenol A safety. But signals were mixed about whether the news will impact sales of 5-gallon PC bottles for water coolers.
Canadian Health Minister Tony Clement has proposed a ban on PC baby bottles, and the U.S. National Toxicology Program issued a report April 14 on BPA's potential negative health effects on fetuses, infants and pregnant women - but neither raised PC water-cooler bottles as being a cause for concern.
``I would hope that science would dictate where we go on this,'' Joe Doss, spokesman for the Alexandria, Va.-based International Bottled Water Association, said in an April 22 telephone interview. Decades of testing by the Food and Drug Administration have affirmed that PC water-cooler bottles are safe, he said.
The Canadian Bottled Water Association in Richmond, Ontario, said the Canadian government reviewed 150 sets of data on food-contact plastics - including water-cooler bottles - before making its finding.
``As they have for years, Health Canada has again determined that PC water bottles used with water coolers are safe for use,'' CBWA Executive Director Elizabeth Griswold said in a news release. ``Health Canada should be commended for basing its decision on all evidence available, including by third-party researchers using widely accepted scientific methods.''
Several manufacturers of PC water-cooler bottles and closures, including Consolidated Container Corp. and Portola Packaging Inc., declined to comment.
Meanwhile, companies that provide bottled water in PET or glass containers are sensing an opportunity to increase sales.
``We're getting [new] orders and we've processed orders for customers,'' said Sylvia Lasko, spokeswoman for Winnipeg, Manitoba-based blow molder Dyna-Pro Environmental. ``We have a woman in sales who specializes in water-cooler bottles and she's just unbelievably busy.''
Dyna-Pro's clients include Canadian food retailers Federated Co-operatives Ltd. and Loblaw Cos. Ltd., as well as Alaska Commercial Co.'s AC Value Centers in Alaska and Piggly Wiggly LLC supermarkets in South Carolina. The company has been featured in recent reports on BPA by the Winnipeg Free Press and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
Breck Speed, chairman and chief executive officer of Mountain Valley Spring Co., said the Hot Springs, Ark., producer of glass and PET water bottles has received higher-than-normal call traffic inquiring about the safety of its products. Mountain Valley Springs' water-cooler bottles are glass - but that doesn't stop them from being misrepresented in the media, Speed said.
``On the evening news the other night, there was [a video] of a line of water bottles on a shelf and there was Mountain Valley Spring - in glass,'' he said.
IBWA's Doss acknowledged that the recent decision by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to pull several products containing BPA off store shelves in Canada and the United States, as well as Nalgene Outdoor Products' announcement that it will phase out its Outdoor line of PC containers, might prompt more bottled-water distributors to think twice about PC water-cooler bottles.
Joel Tickner, a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell and project director of the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production, said if there is evidence that 5-gallon coolers leach BPA into water, there should be a search for alternatives.
``I think the answer is somewhere in between the extremes on the issue. Are they deadly? Definitely no. Could they be leaching a potentially dangerous chemical into the water that could affect some people (children, pregnant women)? This is plausible,'' Tickner said in an e-mail.
``I haven't seen the data on leaching into such containers. I would also say there is enough scientific evidence on health risks from BPA to certain populations that it would make sense to seek alternatives (glass, tap) if there is evidence of leaching - even though a particular risk cannot be calculated.''