One of the most respected outdoor retailers in Canada has withdrawn from sale drinks bottles, widely available in Britain, containing a controversial chemical.

Mountain Equipment Co-op, which has no connection with the British Mountain Equipment clothing company, has taken off its shelves all containers made from polycarbonate. One of the best known brands is Nalgene, whose brightly coloured drinks bottles grace many outdoors stores in the Britain’s High Streets.

Some research has linked a chemical added to the polycarbonate in the containers, bishphenol A (BPA), with increased cancer risk, lower sperm count and the early onset of puberty.

A second company, Lululemon, followed Mountain Equipment Co-op’s lead and announced it would stop selling polycarbonate containers, which are also used for baby feeding products. Patagonia, a company that pushes a strong ethical image, stopped the sale of the bottles two years ago.

Nalgene, based in Rochester, New York state, countered the news with a statement that said “Based on the findings of the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the American Plastics Council and other reliable sources from around the world, we continue to firmly believe in the safety of our products.”

Aficionados of the Nalgene polycarbonate bottles rate them for their toughness, resistance to staining and tainting and the ability to take boiling liquids. The company also makes high-density polyethylene (HDPE) bottles which do not contain BPA, but are less tough. HDPE bottles can be distinguished by their translucent appearance and the number two recycling symbol. Polycarbonate containers have a number seven mark.

Nalgene bottles were originally produced for laboratory use, part of a range that includes test tubes, cylinders and Petri dishes. Nalge Nunc International Corporation, the firm behind the Nalgene brand, was also targeted ten years ago by activists who organised a boycott of the company’s products because it makes equipment used in animal experiments. Nalgene says it supports research ‘conducted only within the guidelines of the federal Animal Welfare Act, and only when necessary’.

Tim Southam, of Mountain Equipment Co-op, said: “We’ve been following this issue quite closely and it’s one [where] we've seen an increasing concern among some members.”

Health Canada, the national government health agency, is conducting tests on BPA, the initial results of which should be published in Spring next year.

The health concerns are centred on the suggestion that endocrine disrupters, contained in BPA, may leach into hot or acidic liquids in contact with the plastic. Controversy surrounds some studies into the effects of the chemical, particularly plastics-industry funded ones, which have been criticised as flawed. It is said that all inhabitants of developed countries have traces of BPA in their bodies; food cans are usually lined with a resin containing the compound, as are some wine vats.

Nalge Nunc said: “We’re confident that when Health Canada completes its work, they will agree with all the important government agencies worldwide that have concluded that polycarbonate water bottles pose no health risk to humans.”


Mountain Equipment Co-op