Betrayed: SIGG bottles contained BPA lining through 2008

I trusted Swiss aluminum-bottle manufacturer SIGG, even though in general I'm not inclined to trust any company in our modern society's atmosphere of lax regulation of chemicals. Case in point: The FDA has largely refused to accept the science behind whether bisphenol-A was really such a bad hormone disrupter until the past year,

When I finally became convinced that BPA was potentially harmful to my growing boys (not to mention my own self), I bought several SIGG bottles. My family now has eight sweet and stylish aluminum bottles -- $160-some worth of liquid protection.

The bottles I have are copper-lined, with a dull metallic sheen. Then I discovered that they were lined with a water-based epoxy material that contains BPA.

To be clear: the bottles being produced today, and for the last roughly 12 months, do not contain any BPA in the lining; you'll be able to tell by the color of the inside of your bottle. The new lining is beige and does not appear to be metallic. And, according to independent testing released by SIGG before the liner change, BPA did not leach into liquids kept in SIGG bottles, including fruit juice, water and cola.

So maybe my children are safe? Well, not exactly.

The Organic Consumers Association has, since March 2007, urged consumers to avoid aluminum cans and water bottles lined with materials containing BPA -- even the ones that supposedly do not leach. The Environmental Working Group, an activist group whose information I generally trust, has suggested that these same bottles and cans be avoided (and did, in fact, say that SIGG's liners contained BPA).

BPA was first synthesized in 1891, and is a key chemical building block of plastics. Back in the 1930s, scientists recognized that the substance mimicked estrogen in the body, and bonded with the same receptors as natural female hormones. The ramifications of that hormone-like substance weren't known then, but research began to show that BPA is connected with breast cancer cell growth and decreased sperm count.

Consumers and some scientists are concerned that the artificial hormone has especially destructive effects on children, including early puberty in girls and abnormalities in the reproductive tract for boys. Diabetes has also been linked to BPA [pdf link].

The FDA has decided that the dangers are not clear and does not currently ban or restrict the use of the chemical in food containers. A spokesperson told the Scientific American, "Based on the studies reviewed by FDA, adverse effects occur in animals only at levels of BPA that are far higher orders of magnitude than those to which infants or adults are exposed."

The Center for Disease Control found BPA to be in much higher concentration in infants and young children than adolescents; and higher concentration in adolescents than adults. It's metabolized very quickly, and there are concerns that children's metabolization isn't as good at eliminating toxins as adults.

What's more, BPA is found to be most prevalent in baby bottles (and leaches more than 30 times more into hot liquids and those stored in heated plastics -- like baby bottles), infant formula, canned tomatoes, and canned soup; all sources of high exposure for children.

The worst part, however, has been SIGG's handling of the matter; carefully refusing to answer questions about the makeup of its liners until last week (obviously long after it had replaced the offensive material and waited for the old bottles to work their way through the distribution stream).

In a few cases it is clearly omitting information and disguising its public statements in a way that appeared to be horrified of any concern about BPA; while at the same time never actually denying that the substance was present.

This statement made by SIGG's CEO in March 2007, after the EWG report accused the company of using BPA, is the most flagrant: "it was brought to my attention that a website sponsored by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) made mention that SIGG bottles contain plastic liners with bisphenol A (BPA). I can assure you that SIGG bottles are absolutely not made with a plastic liner and are in fact lined with a proprietary non-toxic, water-based resin which has been refined over decades of study and is extremely safe & stable... we questioned the EWG and requested that they provide us with the testing they have conducted on SIGG -- or alternatively to remove the "SIGG" mention from their website if they have not tested SIGG." The EWG removed the mention of SIGG.

The bulletin recently posted on SIGG's Web site does not apologize for distributing bottles containing BPA without informing consumers, nor does it contain any consciousness of SIGG's role in perpetuating the mythology of safety surrounding its products. Instead, it applauds the company's forward-thinking in developing (secretly) a BPA free liner (and not telling consumers about it for an entire year after it had been launched) and crowing: "It is also environmentally friendly as its application generates virtually no waste and utilizes no organic solvents or VOCs. Our new bottle liner is not only a technological advance; it's a major step forward in SIGG's journey towards sustainability."

As far as I can see, consumers like me who have shelled out big bucks to buy SIGG bottles specifically because of concerns about BPA have no recourse but to vow never to buy them in the future. And while I'm almost shaking with the betrayal, I still love the way my SIGG bottles look. I flip through my photostream looking at pictures of my SIGG bottles with my kids, with my niece, with me, all through our life, and I tremble. We embraced SIGG as the thinking person's investment in the safety of our water.

How many times will a company that has positioned itself as a trusted source for safe products be found out to have deceived us all along? How many times will we swallow that lump of anger in our throat and go on to shop again?

After I'd finished writing this post, I found that some consumers have had success e-mailing liners[at]sigg.com and requesting a refund; the bottles are being returned for a Web site credit. Details on how this will work weren't yet available. I hope that SIGG will take advantage of an opportunity to regain its consumers' trust and make this return/refund process obvious and transparent; or risk losing that trust for good.

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