Plastic water bottles leach chemicals, but dioxins don’t
The claim: heat reacts with chemicals in plastic water bottles and releases harmful dioxins
Do water bottles release a carcinogenic chemical when exposed to extreme heat?
A Facebook user shared an image of a warning sign on October 3, 2019, which contained the words “Bottled water in your car is very dangerous!” “
The two-year post has generated nearly 160,000 shares, most of it in early October, as the post regained its life online.
According to the post, singer Sheryl Crow said on “The Ellen Degeneres Show” that she suffered breast cancer from dioxin from a water bottle that was left in a hot car.
“Dioxin is a toxin increasingly found in breast cancer tissue. So be careful and do not drink bottled water that has been left in the car,” the post said.
“I posted that 2 years ago this was posted by a family member, so I decided to post,” the Facebook user told USA TODAY. “I haven’t verified the information, but until 3 days ago there were thousands of shares, comments and likes.”
The same warning was posted by an Instagram user on October 7 and generated over 15,000 likes in less than a day. This message has since apparently been deleted.
Checking the facts:Mucus is a symptom of many diseases, not the cause
But, the claim is irrelevant. The heat reacts with the plastic in the bottle to release chemicals in a process known as “leaching.” However, dioxin is not one of those chemicals, experts say.
USA TODAY has reached out to social media users who shared the post for comment.
No dioxins in water bottles
Dioxins aren’t found in plastic, and plastic water bottles left in hot cars don’t release dioxin, experts say.
Dioxins are a group of toxic chemical compounds that share certain chemical structures and biological characteristics, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
They are formed from industrial activities and combustion processes such as the burning of waste or fuel, and they then make their way from the air to lakes and land, according to the EPA.
“People shouldn’t be worried about carcinogenic dioxins in drinking vessels. But there are other chemicals that could potentially cause harm,” said Rolf Halden, director of Arizona’s Center for Environmental Health Engineering. State University. “Therefore, it is better to use inert materials for storage, glass rather than plastic.”
Halden debunked a similar urban legend with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in 2004 that freezing water bottles releases dioxins.
Checking the facts:Post falsely claims TSA airport body scanners decompress and interfere with human DNA
“The primary way people are exposed to dioxins is through our food system. Dioxins are industrial pollutants that persist in the environment and tend to accumulate in the fatty tissue of animals,” Nicole Deziel, Associate Professor of epidemiology and environment at Yale School of Public Health, said USA TODAY. “So the consumption of animal products like meat, dairy products and various fish is one of the main ways that people are exposed to these chemicals.”
She said dioxins can cause cancer in many parts of the body, and links to breast cancer in particular are still being investigated.
Plastic water bottles exposed to heat undergo “leaching”
Plastic water bottles are known to leach chemicals into the water, and the leaching process is aided by heat, according to Halden.
“So the hotter it is, the easier it is to transfer things from the plastic polymer to the water that is stored in the plastic container,” he told USA TODAY.
The type of chemicals released depends on the type of bottle, according to Halden. Reusable plastic polycarbonate water bottles are made from bisphenol A, which has been linked to a series of adverse health effects, including functioning as a hormone mimic and as an “obesogen” or fattening chemical, in animal studies.
Checking the facts:Merck’s molnupiravir and ivermectin are not the same medicine
Polyethylene terephthalate, which is commonly used for single-use, disposable plastic bottles, is known to leach out a harmful metal, antimony, which can cause lung, heart and stomach problems.
The nature of Crow’s comments is unclear
USA TODAY could not find evidence that Crow talks about plastic bottles, dioxin and breast cancer on “The Ellen Degeneres Show”.
Crow did an interview with DeGeneres in 2008, which was uploaded to YouTube, but it doesn’t show her discussing plastic water bottles or dioxin. Crow was also a guest on the show in 2006, but USA TODAY was unable to locate a recording to establish what she was talking about.
Crow did not respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment.
Crow published an article on bottled water on her website in 2006, where she said, “Do not drink water from a bottle that has been left in your car. Heated plastic will bleed toxic substances that can be carcinogens. “
Our rating: partly false
Based on our research, we find that the claim that heat reacts with chemicals in plastic water bottles to release harmful dioxins is PARTLY FALSE. Plastic water bottles left in hot cars don’t release dioxin, an expert says, but plastic water bottles are likely to leach out other chemicals.
Our sources of fact-checking:
- Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health June 25, 2004 Researcher Dispels Myth of Dioxins and Plastic Water Bottles
- United States Environmental Protection Agency, accessed Oct. 12, Learn more about dioxin
- Rolf Halden, October 8, telephone interview with USA TODAY
- TODAY, July 6, 2018, Forgot your water bottle in a hot car? Drink it with caution, say some experts
- Nicole Deziel, October 11, telephone interview with USA TODAY
- Australian Associated Press Fact Check, November 22, 2019, Bottled water in cars leaves a bad taste
- Sheryl Crow via Wayback Machine, September 3, 2006, Fight Cancer (and How) and Love Horses (an updated article)
- World Health Organization, October 4, 2016, Dioxins and their effects on human health
- YouTube, October 10, 2008, interview with Sheryl Crow 10/10/08 on Ellen Degeneres
Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free app, or e-journal replica here.
Our fact-checking work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.