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When British Petroleum (BP) applied for a permit to build the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico and begin drilling, it claimed to have the technology and know-how to handle any oil spill.

But in the face of an actual spill, BP is much less confident. “This scares everybody: the fact that we can’t make this well stop flowing, the fact that we haven’t succeeded so far,” BP CEO Doug Suttles said. “Many of the things we’re ­trying have been done on the surface before, but have never been tried at 5,000 ft.”

They’ve never been tried at 5,000 feet. Drilling for oil this deeply under the ocean is a relatively new enterprise for our species. Oil has been drilled offshore in shallow water for more than a century. But deepwater drilling is much more expensive than shallow-water drilling. For a long time drilling in deep water wasn’t tried, because it would have cost more to extract a barrel of oil than a barrel of oil was worth on world markets. It took the spikes in oil prices in recent years to make deepwater drilling profitable.

Politicians and oil executives assured us that offshore oil drilling was safe. Those tree huggers who worry about environmental disasters are nuts, they said. Yes, there have been oil rig disasters in the past, but (big wink) we know what we’re doing now. Trust us.

The laws of physics work differently nearly a mile underwater than they do on land, or shallow water, however. By now, it is obvious BP is still trying to invent a procedure that might stop the oil leak, maybe, if we’re lucky. No one appears to have been ready for the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Really, this “trust us” business is getting old. How many times have we been told to “trust” some new thing, and then when the dangers surface we find out the “trusted” ones hadn’t told us the whole truth?

In the mid-20th century we humans went into overdrive digging asbestos out of the earth to use in countless structures and products. There is asbestos in navy ships, in shipyards such as Bath Iron Works, asbestos in our homes and schools, asbestos in old car parts, and asbestos in landfills. And eventually, years after medical science had determined asbestos exposure causes terrible disease, industry executives and politicians reluctantly agreed to shut down asbestos production, or at least most of it. And now the cost of asbestos abatement and mesothelioma treatment is an ongoing problem for individuals, taxpayers, and businesses.

And do we want to talk about Vioxx? Tanning beds? And now there are questions being asked about Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical found in just about every plastic bottle you’ve ever touched. It may be dangerous, it may not. Opinions vary. Just note that the same political and business leaders who deny BPA could be dangerous are the same ones who like to yell “drill, baby, drill.”

 Barbara O’ Brien is the author of this guest post.   She represents maacenter.org, a leading web resource for asbestos exposure and cancer information.

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When I first started my search for the best reusable bottle for our school fundraiser in the fall of 2007, I came across warnings about a variety of chemicals that could leach out of various types of bottles into drinks. Some claims seemed far fetched – especially the one about plastic bottles that are put in the freezer, but some claims seemed legitimate.  Digging a little deeper, I found credible scientific sources who concluded that Bisphenol A (BPA) can leach out of plastic and is not a good chemical to ingest, even in small concentrations.  BPA is a hormone disruptor that can affect the reproductive system and the nervous system, especially in children and infants. I quickly ruled out any plastic bottle that contained BPA – at the time, all Nalgene and Camelback bottles.

After eliminating the hard plastic (polycarbonate) bottles to avoid BPA, I considered the metal bottles: aluminum and stainless steel.  Aluminum bottles have to be lined with something because aluminum is reactive.   We steered away from Sigg because their bottles had openings too narrow for ice cubes and proper washing and drying.  But we were also concerned about that liner.  What was it made of?  Would it wear and crack with use or abuse?  Little did I imagine that Sigg’s aluminum bottles actually contained BPA and they were keeping that information from consumers while the BPA concern was growing!   Ultimately, we chose stainless steel because it’s non-reactive and doesn’t need a liner.  Stainless steel has also been around for decades and hasn’t been found to leach anything harmful into drinks. 

Fast forward to 2009 – some reusable bottle companies have come up with a new type of hard plastic that doesn’t contain BPA and Sigg can now line their bottles with a liner that doesn’t have BPA, but you know what?  I’m not sure I am willing to trust that this new plastic bottle and new liner are any better and that the companies would admit it if they weren’t better.  Given Sigg’s years of misinformation about BPA, I’m just not sure anymore, so I’m sticking with stainless steel reusable bottles!  Naturally, BPA-free!

BPA (bisphenol-A) is a chemical found in plastic #7 (polycarbonate only) used to make baby bottles, water bottles,  food containers, and metal can linings.    This chemical, a hormone disruptor, can leach from the plastic into the contents in very low concentrations.  Well over a year ago, when I was researching reusable bottle options for a local anti-bottled water campaign, there were more than enough studies  raising health concerns about BPA to warrant avoiding it.    In fact, we chose to avoid plastic altogether and purchase stainless steel water bottles for our school’s Back2Tap campaign.

When Canada banned the use of BPA in bottles earlier this year, I felt vindicated; in August, when the US FDA stated that BPA posed no health concern, I felt disgusted.    I was relieved to read in the December 24, 2008 New York Times article “F.D. A. to Reconsider Plastic Bottle Risk” that the FDA has agreed to reevaluate the safety of BPA after being accused by its advisory board of not considering all the available evidence.

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