By Sandee LaMotte, CNN
Synthetic chemicals called phthalates, found in hundreds of consumer products such as food storage containers, shampoo, makeup, perfume, and children’s toys, can contribute to some 91,000 to 107,000 premature deaths per year in people aged 55 to 64. in the United States, a new study found.
People with the highest levels of phthalates had a higher risk of death from any cause, especially cardiovascular mortality, according to the study published Tuesday in the peer-reviewed journal. environmental pollution journal.
The study estimated that these deaths could cost the United States around $ 40 billion to $ 47 billion each year in lost economic productivity.
“This study adds to the growing database on the impact of plastics on the human body and strengthens public health and business cases for reducing or eliminating the use of plastics,” said lead author, Dr Leonardo Trasande, professor of pediatrics and environmental medicine. and population health at NYU Langone Health in New York.
Phthalates are known to interfere with the body mechanism for hormone production, known as the endocrine system, and they are “linked to developmental, reproductive, brain, immune and other problems,” according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
Even small hormonal disturbances can cause “significant developmental and biological effects,” says the NIEHS.
Previous research has linked phthalates to reproductive problems, such as birth defects and undescended testes in baby boys and lower sperm count and testosterone levels in adult men. Previous studies have also linked phthalates to childhood obesity, asthma, cardiovascular problems, and cancer.
“These chemicals have a rap foil,” said Trasande, who also heads NYU Langone’s Center for the Investigation of Environmental Hazards. “And the point is, when you look at the body of evidence, it provides a haunting cause for concern.”
The American Chemistry Council, which represents the American chemical, plastics and chlorine industries, shared this statement with CNN by email:
“Much of the content in Trasande et al’s latest study is patently inaccurate,” wrote Eileen Conneely, senior director of chemicals and technology at ACC.
She added that the study lumped all phthalates into one group and failed to mention that the industry claims that high molecular weight phthalates like DINP and DIDP have lower toxicity than other phthalates.
“Such studies do not consider all phthalates individually and consistently ignore or downplay the existence of authoritative scientific conclusions regarding the safety of high molecular weight phthalates,” Conneely wrote.
Often referred to as “chemicals everywhere” because they are so common, phthalates are added to consumer products such as PVC plumbing, vinyl flooring, rain and stain resistant products, medical tubing. , garden hoses, and some children’s toys to make plastic more flexible. and more difficult to break.
Other common exposures come from the use of phthalates in food packaging, detergents, clothing, furniture and automotive plastics. Phthalates are also added to personal care items such as shampoo, soap, hairspray, and cosmetics to extend the life of scents.
People are exposed when they breathe contaminated air or eat or drink food that has come in contact with plastic, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Children crawl and touch a lot of things, then put their hands in their mouths. Because of this hand-to-mouth behavior, phthalate particles in dust could pose a greater risk to children than to adults, ”says the CDC.
“A snapshot in time”
The new study measured urinary phthalate levels in more than 5,000 adults aged 55 to 64 and compared those levels to the risk of premature death over an average of 10 years, Trasande said.
Researchers checked for pre-existing heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other common ailments, poor eating habits, physical activity and body mass, as well as the levels of other known hormone disruptors such as bisphenol A. or BPA, he said.
“However, I will never tell you that this is a definitive study,” Trasande told CNN. “It’s a snapshot in time and can only show one association.”
Learning exactly how phthalates can affect the body requires a benchmark double-blind randomized clinical trial, he said. Yet such a study will never be done, he added, “because we cannot ethically randomize people to be exposed to potentially toxic chemicals.”
“But we already know that phthalates disrupt the male sex hormone, testosterone, which is a predictor of cardiovascular disease in adults. And we already know that these exposures can contribute to multiple conditions associated with mortality, such as obesity and diabetes, ”said Trasande.
The chemical BPA has also been linked to abnormalities in the reproductive system of male babies and subsequent infertility problems in adult males, as well as obesity, heart disease, cancer and the premature death of any child. cause. The synthetic compound was once present in most bottles, cups and infant formula containers until parents boycotted these products over a decade ago. The FDA banned the use of the chemical in bottles and cups in 2012.
It’s possible to minimize your exposure to phthalates and other endocrine disruptors like BPA, which can still be found in the liners of cans and paper receipts, Trasande said.
“First, avoid plastics as much as possible. Never put plastic containers in the microwave or dishwasher, where heat can break the linings so they can be absorbed more easily, ”he suggested. “Plus, cooking at home and reducing your use of processed foods can reduce levels of exposure to chemicals you come in contact with.”
Here are some other tips to reduce your exposure and that of your family:
- Use unscented laundry lotions and detergents.
- Use scent-free cleaning products.
- Use glass, stainless steel, ceramic or wood to hold and store food.
- Buy fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables rather than canned and processed versions.
- Encourage frequent hand washing to remove chemicals from hands.
- Avoid air fresheners and all plastics labeled No. 3, No. 6, and No. 7
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