Back when my child was first born, my wife and I went into an ill-advised, hyper-vigilance mode that consisted of removing all manner of PVC from our home, permanently recycling all plastic bottles and containers, and ceremoniously tossing the Teflon cookware. In addition, we stopped buying pesticide-laden foods in favor of organic and local items, and placed a filter on our tap water. Still that was not enough, as concerned friends and intrepid websites alerted us to the dangers of parabens, black mold, inorganic cotton, etc.
We were, by my assessment, wholly proactive and heedful when it came to making our limited domestic environment relatively healthy and free of egregious dangers. However, no matter how hard we tried, we still felt beleaguered and beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil corporate interests (to borrow a phrase from both the Bible and Pulp Fiction). This was made clear to me, after some sort of vexing encounter with a questionable consumer product, my wife responded with dire frustration saying, “No matter what we do, or how cautious we are, we still get duped by corporate greed mongers.” We were, understandably, in a healthy panic.
A few years on, we have relaxed a bit (as stress about these things will kill you well before the parabens and leeching plastic toxins will) and have learned to, in essence, do what we can. One of the feel good things we did was replace all of our plastic water bottles with Sigg aluminum water bottles, which we have been using daily for a few years.
Now comes the news that Swiss company Sigg, the ever-popular aluminum water bottle manufacturer, hadn’t been telling the entire truth about their stylish and fast selling product. It turns out that the key selling point for Sigg bottles (the “fact” that they were bisphenol-A, or BPA, free) was a bit of an overstatement, and they have rectified matters by now manufacturing bottles that were truly BPA free (see link for full explanation). Better late than never–maybe?
Now, I sat on this story for a little over ten days until I was able to gather enough information and give it enough time to hear back from a Sigg bottle representative. While the bottles, formerly made with a liner that had a proprietary liner with trace amounts of BPA (none of which leeches into the water or contents of the bottle, according to Sigg and an independent testing lab) the R&D at Sigg decided to retool their approach and supply consumers (as of August 2008) with a totally BPA free bottle. In addition, according to the email message I received back from Sigg and a press release that went out this past week, Sigg will gladly exchange any previously purchased Sigg bottle for one of their newer, safer, models.
Well yes, but this revelation sparked a firestorm on the internet, blogs and Twitter accounts with all sorts of curses and expletives being aimed at Sigg. The response was swift, emotional, and indignant, as many of the Sigg faithful relayed their disappointment and outrage. It was received more a betrayal than it was your run-of-the-mill corporate malfeasance or oversight. Upon reading a few dozen blog posts, you got the feeling that people/customers took all of this very personally, as if a confidant or a benefactor suddenly revealed that they were not what they appeared to be. Even with mea culpas published and exchanges offered, there seemingly is a significant breach of trust here as the healthy panic proceeds.
Beyond this particular case, there seems to be a general feeling among watchful consumers that nothing is safe or sacred in the consumer world. Organic spinach shows up in bags tainted with E Coli, peanuts are laden with salmonella, and now the relative safety of our aluminum bottles is seemingly relative. Are we justified in our skepticism? Is this much ado about nothing? Have we become a consumer culture held victim in our healthy (or unhealthy) panic?