Chemicals in plastics, beauty products, toys implicated in disease

Robert Hundley

American Chemistry Council, which represents the US chemical, plastics and chlorine industries, had a different view of the new study.

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A new study links chemicals found in plastic food containers, beauty products and kids’ toys to early death.


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Dr Leonardo Trasande of the NYU Langone Health is lead author on a new study that says the synthetic chemicals may be responsible for as many as 100,000 U.S. deaths a year in older people.

Phthalates are hormone disruptors and have been implicated in infertility, obesity, cardiac disease and impaired development.

The chemicals can be found in many consumer products — food storage containers, beauty products, shampoo, perfume and toys.

A study published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Pollution outlines the huge health and economic damages that result, with  Science Daily reporting that the annual economic burden is between $40 and $47 billion, more than quadruple previous estimates.

The new study was led by researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and involved 5,000 adults aged between 55 and 64. Results showed those with the highest concentrations of phthalate in their urine were more likely to die of heart disease than those with lesser exposure — and more likely to die of any cause over those in low-exposure groups; high toxin levels did not seem to increase risk of cancer death.


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“Our findings reveal that increased phthalate exposure is linked to early death, particularly due to heart disease,” said Trasande.

“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.”

Researchers are working to discover exactly how phthalates affect hormone regulation and inflammation.

CNN reports that the American Chemistry Council, which represents the US chemical, plastics and chlorine industries, had a different view of the new study.

“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.


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She added the study ignored the fact that some phthalates have lower toxicity than others and that the safety of high molecular weight phthalates is often ignored.

Phthalates are extremely common in consumer products, said CNN, such as PVC plumbing, vinyl flooring, rain- and stain-resistant products, garden hoses, and some children’s toys to make the plastic more flexible and harder to break.

Phthalates are found in food packaging, detergents, clothing, furniture and automotive plastics. They are also added to personal care items such as shampoo, soap, hair spray and cosmetics to make fragrances last longer.

Exposure comes from breathing contaminated air or eating (or drinking) foods that came into contact with the plastic, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The exposure risk is potentially greater for children, who crawl on the floor and tend to put things in their mouths.


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People have been avoiding plastics since the hormone disrupter bisphenol A (BPA) was studied and found to be toxic and associated with fertility issues, obesity, cancer and heart disease. BPA is no longer used in making baby bottles or other infant products, but can still be found in the lining of canned goods.

Advice on avoiding these chemicals includes the warning not to heat plastic containers of food in the microwave or put them in the dishwasher, as heat can make the chemicals more readily absorbed.

Unscented beauty and cleaning supplies, including detergent, are recommended; avoidance of plastic containers (and any No. 3 No. 6 and No. 7 plastic items) is advised.



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