Exposure to a synthetic group of chemicals called phthalates may contribute to about 100,000 premature deaths each year among older Americans, according to a new study published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Pollution.
Phthalates are used to make plastics more flexible and can be found in hundreds of products such as cosmetics, detergents, food packing, soaps, shampoos and others.
The chemicals are known to interfere with the human body’s hormonal system. Disruptions of the endocrine system have been linked to “developmental, reproductive, brain, immune, and other problems,” according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
The agency, however, notes assessing the potential health problems in humans related to phthalates has been difficult as people are exposed to multiple endocrine disruptors at the same time.
But a new study led by researchers at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine estimates phthalates may be associated with somewhere between 91,000 and 107,000 premature deaths in the U.S. among adults ages 55 to 64. The study estimates the deaths could cost the country between $40 billion and $47 billion annually.
Researchers analyzed data from more than 5,000 adults between the ages of 55 and 64 who participated in a U.S. National Health and Nutrition Survey from 2001 to 2010. Participants provided urine samples so their phthalate levels could be measured. The analysis also involved those whose cause of death had been tracked through 2015.
The study found those with higher levels of phthalates were more likely to die prematurely from any cause, especially from heart problems.
“Our findings reveal that increased phthalate exposure is linked to early death, particularly due to heart disease,” Leonardo Trasande, the study’s lead author, said in a statement.
“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,” Trasande said.
The researcher noted more research into the matter needs to be done and said the study does not establish a direct cause-and-effect association between phthalates and premature deaths.
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