A new study has found that daily exposure to chemicals called phthalates, which are used in the manufacture of plastic food containers and numerous cosmetics, may cause 100,000 premature deaths in older Americans each year.
For decades, phthalates have been found to pose a risk to human health by interfering with the function of hormones, signaling compounds produced in glands that circulate throughout the body to impact activities, according to experts.
Exposure is thought to occur as these poisons build up in consumer products and are swallowed, with obesity, diabetes, and heart disease being connected to phthalate exposure.
Deaths caused by high levels of phthalates could cost the U.S. $40 to $47 billion in lost economic productivity each year, the study noted.
"This study adds to the growing database on the impact of plastics on the human body and bolsters public health and business cases for reducing or eliminating the use of plastics," lead author Dr. Leonardo Trasande, a professor of pediatrics, environmental medicine and population health at NYU Langone Health in New York City, said.
The research team looked for phthalates found in urine samples from persons who took part in the National Health and Nutrition Survey in the U.S. between 2001 and 2010.
The researchers only looked at those who died in 2015 and whose cause of death had been tracked. Furthermore, they focused on a subgroup of Americans aged 55 to 64, because earlier studies had estimated phthalate-related death in this age range.
Phthalates have been linked to reproductive issues in the past, including genital abnormalities and undescended testes in baby boys, as well as reduced sperm counts and testosterone levels in adult males. Phthalates have also been linked to asthma, childhood obesity, cancer, and cardiovascular problems in previous research.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that people are exposed when they breathe polluted air or consume or drink items that come into contact with the plastic.
The authors stressed that their findings indicate that the impact of this chemical to society is substantially higher than previously believed.
The authors emphasized that their research suggests that the toll of this chemical on society is much greater than first thought.
"The evidence is undeniably clear that limiting exposure to toxic phthalates can help safeguard Americans' physical and financial well-being," the authors concluded.