Health & Wellbeing

Exposure to common plastic chemical linked to 100,000 early deaths

Exposure to common plastic chemical linked to 100,000 early deaths
Several researchers are urgently calling for phthalates to be entirely removed from all consumer products due to safety concerns
Several researchers are urgently calling for phthalates to be entirely removed from all consumer products due to safety concerns
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Several researchers are urgently calling for phthalates to be entirely removed from all consumer products due to safety concerns
Several researchers are urgently calling for phthalates to be entirely removed from all consumer products due to safety concerns

Researchers from the Grossman School of Medicine at New York University are calling for urgent regulatory action limiting the use of chemicals called phthalates in the production of plastics. The research strikingly estimates up to 100,000 premature deaths in the United States every year could be attributed to phthalate exposure.

Phthalates are chemicals often added to plastics to make them softer and more flexible. They have been used in manufacturing for more than half a century and can be found in thousands of different consumer products.

“Things like shower curtains, boots, and IV tubing are made from that same hard white plastic that a plumber would use, but when you add about 30% by weight to it of a specific phthalate, you get soft pliable vinyl plastic,” explains Russ Hauser, a researcher investigating the health effects of chemical exposure. “Phthalates are also used in many personal care products such as colognes, perfumes, soaps, and shampoos, in the coatings of some medications, and in vinyl tubing used for food processing.”

Phthalates are well known endocrine disruptors, with extensive animal research showing exposure to the chemical can disrupt normal hormone function. The new study, published in the journal Environmental Pollution, set out to investigate the relationship between phthalate exposure and mortality.

The research investigated a nationally representative cohort of 5,303 adults aged between 55 and 64. Urine samples were analyzed to track phthalate levels, and mortality data was gathered from a follow-up period of around ten years.

“Our findings reveal that increased phthalate exposure is linked to early death, particularly due to heart disease,” says Leonardo Trasande, lead author on the new study. “Until now, we have understood that the chemicals connect to heart disease, and heart disease in turn is a leading cause of death, but we had not yet tied the chemicals themselves to death.”

Extrapolating the findings to all those aged between 55 and 64 in the United States, the researchers estimate phthalate exposure could be associated with over 100,000 premature deaths every year. The economic cost of these early deaths is thought to be over US$40 billion dollars.

“Our research suggests that the toll of this chemical on society is much greater than we first thought,” says Trasande. “The evidence is undeniably clear that limiting exposure to toxic phthalates can help safeguard Americans’ physical and financial well-being.”

Another newly published study, from researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, found phthalate exposure during pregnancy could be linked to altered expressions of 38 different genes in the placenta.

“Our findings suggest exposure to phthalates during pregnancy is associated with changes in gene expression in the placenta,” says Alison Paquette, lead author on the study. “Such changes could affect placental functioning that lead to complications in pregnancy, such as premature birth or miscarriage, and changes in fetal growth and development.”

The relationship between phthalate exposure during pregnancy and abnormal brain development in children is a robustly researched area. A review article on the subject published earlier this year, from a team of researchers around the United States, called for urgent reforms to remove the chemical from most plastic manufacturing.

“Substantial evidence links exposure to phthalates with increased risks for child learning, attention, and behavioral problems,” the article concludes. “We therefore recommend that phthalates be eliminated from products that may lead to exposure of women of reproductive age, pregnant women, infants, and children.”

Russ Hauser, a co-author on this review article calling for phthalate regulation, believes completely eliminating the chemical from all consumer products is a realistic proposition. Most products can simply substitute phthalates with other compounds, Hauser says, while also noting there needs to be thorough study into the risks of any replacement chemicals.

Hauser explains the biggest reason for totally eliminating phthalates from all consumer products is many products contain the potentially harmful chemical but do not need to list it as an ingredient. Personal care products, for example, such as shampoos and soaps can often contain phthalates as part of a scent formulation. And consumers would never know they are being exposed to the chemical.

“If phthalates in the product are considered part of the scent formulation, they don’t need to be listed on the ingredient list, because scents are considered proprietary.” says Hauser. “Even though some products do list phthalates, it’s really hard for consumers to read the labels with these long chemical names. It’s really hard for even a very knowledgeable consumer to buy products and avoid phthalates.”

The new research was published in the journal Environmental Pollution.

Source: NYU Langone

Just imagine what the excessive world unregulated population and therefore consumer demand would be if we removed all these presently unknown and recently discovered population regulators from our industrial processes.
I stopped reading when you equated the number of deaths to money lost. Why does this have to boil down to money?
Brian M
The get out clause because its a fragrance therefor proprietary its just wrong its not listed.

Plus if something has a risk factor and its not essential for the product then it should not be in there or at the very least listed as making product more dangerous than it needs to be - Consumer choice!
We do have to be really careful to audit any replacement compounds, preferably before putting them in wide production.
Since governments don't seem to be willing to take on big business it is up to the consumer to force the change. I suggest buying only items in glass.
Rich - nice reveiw article, but what's the point?
We have studies on phthalates from the 1990's onward in disposable medical devices. Plus in the early 2000's the use of food stored in plastic-ware and then microwaved was widely publicized although I never read any of those articles, many of which were in non-peer review journals.
Now we need an actual theoretical death toll attributed to these harmful - and accumulating - chemicals used to make plastics more flexible, smoother to touch, and help fragrances/dyes mix better in formulations? Why? Who cares?
"Endocrine disruptors" junk science. Again. From the study: "revealing a total of 27 biological pathways that were perturbed in association with phthalate metabolites". So what? Lots of things "perturb" biological pathways including diet, stress, and exercise. It doesn't mean pregnant mothers will have deformed babies. Read the study carefully and you find a whole lot of innuendo, suggestion, guilt by association, but no evidence of any measured detrimental effects. A (in)famous study found children exposed to phthalates had lower IQ without bothering to screen for the well-known association between poverty and lower IQ. But it was the phthalates, they insist, not the poverty and the deficient methodology of the study. The EPA dismissed the worry about phthalates on more than one occasion, but the conspiracists persist despite numerous studies showing no statistically significant correlation to neural development or heart disease in well controlled studies. In their world plastic and chemicals are just bad. But "organic" stuff is all good.