Synthetic chemicals called phthalates, found in hundreds of consumer products such as food storage containers, shampoo, makeup, perfume and children’s toys, may contribute to some 91,000 to 107,000 premature deaths a year among people ages 55 to 64 in the United States, a new study found.
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.
Phthalates are known to interfere with the body’s mechanism for hormone production, known as the endocrine system, and they are “linked with developmental, reproductive, brain, immune, and other problems,” according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
Even small hormonal disruptions can cause “significant developmental and biological effects,” the NIEHS states.
Prior research has connected phthalates with reproductive problems, such as genital malformations and undescended testes in baby boys and lower sperm counts and testosterone levels in adult males. Previous studies have also linked phthalates to childhood obesity, asthma, cardiovascular issues and cancer.
“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.
Often called “everywhere chemicals” 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 the plastic more flexible and harder 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, hair spray and cosmetics to make fragrances last longer.