People with the highest levels of phthalates had a greater risk of death from any cause, especially cardiovascular mortality, according to the study published Tuesday in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Pollution.
The study estimated those deaths could cost the US about $40 to $47 billion each year in lost economic productivity.
“This study adds to the growing data base on the impact of plastics on the human body and bolsters public health and business cases for reducing or eliminating the use of plastics,” said lead author Dr. Leonardo Trasande, a professor of pediatrics, environmental medicine and population health at NYU Langone Health in New York City.
Even small hormonal disruptions can cause “significant developmental and biological effects,” the NIEHS states.
“These chemicals have a rap sheet,” said Trasande, who also directs NYU Langone’s Center for the Investigation of Environmental Hazards. “And the fact of the matter is that when you look at the entire body of evidence, it provides a haunting pattern of concern.”
The American Chemistry Council, which represents the US chemical, plastics and chlorine industries, shared this statement with CNN via email:
“Much of the content within Trasande et al’s latest study is demonstrably inaccurate,” wrote Eileen Conneely, ACC’s senior director of chemical products and technology.
She added the study lumped all phthalates into one group and failed to mention that the industry says high-molecular-weight phthalates like DINP and DIDP have lower toxicity than other phthalates.
“Studies such as these fail to consider all phthalates individually and consistently ignore or downplay the existence of science-based, authoritative conclusions regarding the safety of high molecular weight phthalates,” Conneely wrote.
“Children crawl around and touch many things, then put their hands in their mouths. Because of that hand-to-mouth behavior, phthalate particles in dust might be a greater risk for children than for adults,” the CDC states.
‘A snapshot in time’
The new study measured the urine concentration of phthalates in more than 5,000 adults between the ages of 55 and 64 and compared those levels to the risk of early death over an average of 10 years, Trasande said.
“However, I’m never going to tell you this is a definitive study,” Trasande told CNN. “It is a snapshot in time and can only show an association.”
Learning exactly how phthalates may affect the body requires a gold-standard double-blinded 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 phthalates mess with the male sex hormone, testosterone, which is a predictor of adult cardiovascular disease. And we already know that these exposures can contribute to multiple conditions associated with mortality, such as obesity and diabetes,” Trasande said.
It is possible to minimize your exposure to phthalates and other endocrine disruptors like BPA, which can still be found in the linings of canned goods and paper receipts, Trasande said.
“First, avoid plastics as much as you can. Never put plastic containers in the microwave or dishwasher, where the heat can break down the linings so they might be absorbed more readily,” he suggested. “In addition, cooking at home and reducing your use of processed foods can reduce the levels of the chemical exposures you come in contact with.”
Here are other tips to reduce you and your family’s exposure:
- Use unscented lotions and laundry detergents.
- Use cleaning supplies without scents.
- Use glass, stainless steel, ceramic or wood to hold and store foods.
- Buy fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables instead of canned and processed versions.
- Encourage frequent hand washing to remove chemicals from hands.
- Avoid air fresheners and all plastics labeled as No. 3, No. 6 and No. 7