October 12 (News) – Daily exposure to chemicals used in the manufacture of plastic food containers and cosmetics can cause up to 100,000 premature deaths in the elderly annually in the United States, according to a study published Tuesday by Environmental Pollution.
Of more than 5,000 adults aged 55 to 64 years, those with the highest levels of chemicals called phthalates were more likely to die of heart disease in the urine than those with lower exposure, the data showed.
In addition, people in this high exposure group were more likely to die from some cause than those in low exposure groups, the researchers said.
However, high levels of the toxic chemicals in the urine didn’t seem to increase the risk of death from cancer, they said.
“Our research suggests that this chemical’s toll on society is much greater than we initially thought,” said study co-author Dr. Leonardo Trasande, in a press release.
“The evidence is undeniably clear that limiting exposure to toxic phthalates can help protect the physical and financial well-being of Americans,” said Trasande, director of the Center for the Investigation of Environmental Hazards at NYU Langone Health in New York City.
According to Trasande and colleagues, deaths from high levels of phthalates cause up to $ 47 billion in health care costs and lost productivity.
Phthalates pose a potential human health hazard because the chemicals can interfere with the functioning of hormones, signaling compounds made in glands that circulate to affect processes in the body.
Exposure is thought to be from the build-up of these toxins when consumer products are broken down and ingested, with exposure being linked to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease and mental health disorders, studies suggest.
For this study, Trasande and colleagues analyzed data on phthalate levels found in urine samples from adults who participated in the US National Health and Nutrition Survey from 2001 to 2010, an ongoing health assessment conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The researchers also used data from the CDC’s Wonder database, the US Census Bureau, and models from previous studies to estimate the economic cost of early death in adults aged 55 to 64, a group they believe to be particularly vulnerable for phthalate exposure is.
However, the results do not establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship between phthalate exposure and premature death, in part because the specific biological mechanism that would explain the association remains unclear, they said.
The researchers said they plan to further study the role of these chemicals in hormone regulation and inflammation in the body.
“Our results show that increased phthalate exposure is linked to early death, particularly from heart disease,” said Trasande.
“By now we understood that the chemicals are linked to heart disease and that heart disease is a major cause of death, but we hadn’t yet linked the chemicals to death themselves,” he said.