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True or false: All aluminum bottles are BPA-free. The answer would be false.
When concern over BPA in polycarbonate bottles reached a feverish pitch in late 2007 and early 2008 (click here to read the May 5, 2008, SNEWS® editorial, “SNEWS® View: BPA reaction driven by the power of consumer perception, right or wrong.”), those selling aluminum bottles, including Sigg and Laken, benefited greatly as retailers and consumers scrambled for water-carrying alternatives. Sigg reported at one point it could hardly keep up with consumer demand. Consumers, retailers and most mainstream media assumed incorrectly aluminum bottles were BPA-free.
In truth, until quite recently, the lining of all aluminum bottles contained BPA. Even today, it appears most aluminum bottles coming out of China still are coated with epoxy linings that contain BPA.
According to John Rost, chairman of the North American Metal Packaging Alliance (www.metal-pack.org), all epoxies worldwide utilize BPA as a monomer to manufacture the final product.
SNEWS asked Rost in November 2008 if there was any such thing as an epoxy liner, even water-based, that did not contain BPA and he stated, unequivocally, there was not. While other coatings are being evaluated as a replacement for epoxy, none yet can match the high performance and food safety of an epoxy, he said. Still, Rost said stringent testing by numerous agencies have proven that BPA does not leach from epoxy liners in any quantity that would remotely be deemed as unsafe, since most canned goods (yes, most of the cans in the pantry are lined with epoxy too) show BPA migration of less than 10 parts per billion.
Both Sigg and Laken have acknowledged to SNEWS that until August 2008, every aluminum bottle they produced and sold was lined with a water-based epoxy that contained BPA. To their credit, both have told SNEWS that since August 2008, all bottles manufactured by Laken and Sigg are being made with new liners that are certified to be BPA- and phthalate-free.
Steve Wasik, CEO of Sigg, and Greg Garrigues, president of Laken USA, each confirmed to SNEWS their respective companies were aware their bottles were being made with an epoxy lining that contained BPA long before the smoldering BPA brushfire turned into a wildfire in late 2007 and into 2008.
“Once I was able to talk to our supplier in June of 2006, I learned that the water-based epoxy being used in our bottles contained BPA, but I was also assured that our lining was the best in the world and contained very low levels of BPA and absolutely did not leach any BPA,” Wasik told SNEWS. “We conducted myriads of tests to confirm our bottles were 100 percent safe and, at the same time, I went to our board and CEO and told them we needed to make a change to a new coating.
“We made a huge investment in new equipment and the development of a new liner that was BPA-free,” said Wasik. “It took two years to perfect and, in 2008, we shut our factory down for one month to install the new equipment to produce a liner that was something that our engineers tell me has never been created before.”
A lot of explaining to do
In many retail stores around the country in 2007 and 2008, and especially during the 2008 Christmas selling season, Sigg and Laken bottles were being sold frequently in catalogs, online and on shelves with the BPA-free designation, when in fact, the opposite may have been true. In a visit to a Portland, Ore., REI store by SNEWS editors in late 2008, shelves labeled as BPA-free were full of Sigg bottles that were of the old design and clearly using the old bronze-colored and glossy epoxy coating. The older bottles were shelved right alongside newer designs with a far different, dull yellowish lining that, Sigg confirmed with SNEWS, was the new, EcoCare BPA-free coating.
SNEWS was also shown a July 2009 test by a laboratory in Europe conducted on two Sigg bottles that were purchased at an EMS store in June 2009 indicating the presence of BPA in the lining. This, too, was an indication that old stock remained in the pipeline and was being sold by unknowing retailers to unknowing consumers who quite likely believed they were selling (or purchasing) BPA-free bottles.
Much of the past and current confusion stemmed from the fact that neither Sigg nor Laken publicly disclosed, prior to this article, that their bottle linings before August 2008 did contain BPA. A number of consumers and retailers were certainly suspicious, in part because of a sudden change in the wording of Sigg’s own catalog materials. Where product descriptions used to refer to the lining as “micro-epoxy,” all uses of the word “epoxy” disappeared, being substituted with a reference to an alleged top-secret formulation to which they had “proprietary rights with a third-party producer.”
As a result, some retailers, most notably MEC in Canada, declined to carry Sigg as the brushfire was whipped up to wildfire stage. “We asked them to tell us exactly what the ingredients were in the lining they were using, but they declined,” David Labistour, CEO of MEC, told SNEWS. “So, we felt it best to not carry something we did not have sufficient information about.”
Telling the difference
Absent of labeling — or information shared by a manufacturer — it is very difficult to tell whether or not an aluminum bottle you are selling or your consumer is using is, in fact, BPA-free. The one common thread for an epoxy lining is that it is typically glossy, but truly, that is not much help. SNEWS recommends there should always be a suspicion that a lining contains BPA unless the manufacturer can certify the bottle is not made with an epoxy lining and is 100-percent BPA-free. To our knowledge, Sigg and Laken are the only companies currently manufacturing aluminum bottles with linings certified as BPA-free.
Both Laken and Sigg have conducted their own tests on off-brand, Chinese-manufactured aluminum bottles (the same ones many in the industry use for private-label bottles), and those companies shared those results with SNEWS. In each case, high levels of BPA were even detected leaching into the water, indicating a very low quality epoxy to begin with. Those bottles were being sold under the brands Gaiam, Pottery Barn, Paper Chase, and also as no-name bottles at both Old Navy and The Container Store.
Laken is the only brand that has made it very easy for both retailers and consumers to tell the difference between its old bottles manufactured with a lining that contained BPA and its new bottles, manufactured since August 2008 with a certified BPA-free liner.
As of February 2009, every new Laken bottle that is BPA-free will say so right on the bottle itself, the company told us, as illustrated in the image above and to the right. For those bottles made prior to February 2009, the only way to tell the difference is to take a peek inside the bottle. According to Garrigues, “The BPA-free lining can be identified by its translucent gold color with a moderate uni-directional brushed appearance that underlies the coating. The previous coating was a well-polymerized, high-density, phenolic epoxy, with an opaque creamy white appearance.”
Sigg is, for now, taking a less visually obvious approach — you have to peek inside to determine an old coating from a new one. The company has distributed to its reps, retailers and all its customer service staff a document with the imagery shown to the left to illustrate the difference between the color of the company’s new lining manufactured since August 2008 (the dull yellow color) and the color of the old, water-based epoxy lining used in production of all bottles prior to August 2008 (the copper bronze color).
In addition, Wasik told SNEWS, the company will distribute hangtags (image to the right and below) so its reps and staff can place them on all new BPA-free Sigg bottles currently in the market. These hangtags will start appearing on newly shipped bottles as of September 2009.
What are these new coatings?
Naturally, both companies are guarding closely the exact make-up of their new coatings as they do represent a market-advantage, especially in light of ongoing congressional discussions regarding the BPA Free Act for Kids. (Click here to read more information.)
Laken’s lining is a wet-applied polyamide, which has chemical properties similar to nylon. The company said by applying the polyamide wet, this allows it to use a special formulation without a chemical catalyst. The coating is set with very high heat rather than a chemical process.
Sigg’s new EcoCare liner was described to SNEWS as a polymer, similar in nature to a copolyester. (Click here for more information.) Wasik said he could be more specific, but then he’d have to kill us and didn’t want to have to do that. (We think he was joking.)
Both companies said they have had their respective liners certified as BPA-free.
If BPA is not really dangerous, who cares?
The jury is still out on the safety of BPA. Even Health Canada, which in August 2008 deemed BPA to be hazardous to human health, issued an updated directive in May 2009 saying it now believed BPA posed no human health risks, including to newborns and infants. (Click here to read that directive.)
Therefore, what it comes down to is allowing the consumer to make an informed choice since there is insufficient science about BPA’s risk or safety. Until there is a definitive study completed by an independent agency proving once and for all that BPA is either a health risk or safe, consumers must be allowed to make a purchasing choice based on information that reflects full disclosure, which until very recently they have not received.
SNEWS® View: Finally, we have the full truth on the aluminum bottle front. How refreshing. Laken is now making a very concerted effort to drive awareness of BPA-free linings in aluminum bottles and point out that many aluminum bottles being sold today still contain BPA. The company has issued a press release (click here to read) that calls for BPA-free standards in reusable water bottles. This is all very good, and we commend Laken for this. Sigg, too, though a bit more quietly, is touting its new BPA-free lining as well as the fact that all new Sigg bottles are now being made with that lining.
Neither, however, can duck the fact that in 2007 and early 2008, both companies were selling large quantities of bottles, which consumers most likely believed were BPA-free.
Various chat rooms and blogs are full of discussions about the safety of the linings in aluminum bottles, including direct questions to the companies themselves regarding whether or not the linings of aluminum bottles contain BPA. At no time prior to this article did either Sigg or Laken admit or deny their linings contained BPA to the consumers, even though they certainly knew it by admission and by published information in catalogs as early as late 2006.
Instead, questions posed by bloggers and consumers regarding BPA content in the lining of bottles were answered indirectly with the assertion that no detectible BPA ever leached into water in either Sigg’s or Laken’s respective linings. That may, in fact, be the case, though one can argue whether or not the leaching tests were complete enough.
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. The timing is, certainly, convenient.
Why should anyone care since BPA is likely very safe? We have heard this surprising query or comment a number of times since launching our investigation months ago. 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, be it the retail store, the salesperson or the manufacturer.
With all of that now past, we do hail both Sigg’s and Laken’s current openness to educate the public about BPA in aluminum bottle linings. We trust that both will do all each can to inform their respective consumers who purchased bottles that were believed to be BPA-free but in fact had linings that were not. And, “Oops, we’re sorry, but as you know tests have show the BPA does not leach” really is not going to be enough. We might suggest an offer to exchange any old BPA-lined bottle sold in 2007 and 2008 with a new and truly BPA-free bottle. Now that would be doing the right thing.