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Troubling New Data Links Consumer Product Chemicals to Early Death

Troubling New Data Links Consumer Product Chemicals to Early Death

A new, peer-reviewed study published in the journal Environmental Pollution adds to the growing body of scientific literature on the health impact of plastics on the human body. Recent work into the impact of man-made chemicals found in plastics, called phthalates, has found that exposure to plastic products may contribute to upwards of 107,000 premature deaths a year in the United States among people ages 55-64. Phthalates are found in hundreds of every-day consumer products ranging from things like food storage containers to makeup, perfumes, shampoos, and even children's toys. And the mounting data on the ways in which phthalates impact human life is sobering to say the least.

This most recent study finds that high levels of one phthalate in particular, BPA, is linked to a 49 percent greater risk of death within 10 years. The study also provides evidence for a linear exposure relationship, with people exposed to the highest levels of phthalates having the greatest risk of death from any cause, but in particular from cardiovascular mortality. Phthalates interfere with human physiology in a number of ways, but they are widely understood as having significant impact on the human hormone systems, particularly those hormone systems that play a role reproductive, brain, and immune development. Even small hormonal disruptions can cause major developmental and biological problems for humans.

Prior research connecting phthalates to genital malformations, lower sperm and testosterone levels in adult males, childhood obesity, and asthma were bad enough, but a consensus is now emerging amongst the medical and scientific community that exposure to phthalates can outright kill people. Exposure to phthalates occurs through various mechanisms. We breathe phthalate particles in air or dust from the ordinary deterioration of the plastic products that contain them. And we can eat or drink them from foods and food packaging, including the lining of canned goods, that contain or come into contact with plastics. Most troubling is the conclusion that young children, perhaps the most vulnerable population to phthalates’ impact (since they are still developing), are the greatest risk given the way they use their hands and mouths to interact with plastic products.

But make no mistake. Phthalates pose a substantial health risk to each and every one of us. Similar to the “forever chemicals” label that PFAS carry, phthalates are often called "everywhere chemicals" because they are so ubiquitous in consumer products. In addition to those products mentioned above, phthalates can also be found in products such as PVC pipe, vinyl flooring, water and stain-resistant products, garden hoses, food packaging, detergents, clothing, furniture, automotive plastics, and even paper receipts.

Given their outsized impact on our environment and our lives, phthalates and the plastics that contain them should be banned worldwide. And I urge anyone concerned about phthalates to contact your state and federal representatives and pressure them to stand up for our children and your fellow humans. In addition, some steps you can take to try and minimize your exposure to phthalates include:

Using unscented lotions, cleaning supplies and laundry detergents;

Using stainless steel, ceramic, glass, or wood containers to store food;

Frequent hand washing to remove phthalates from the body;

            Buying fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables instead of canned;

           Avoiding plastics labeled as No. 3, No. 6 and No. 7;  

           Avoiding ever putting plastic containers in the dishwasher or microwave (where they can be further broken down and release phthalates); and

exploring blood or urine testing to determine your levels of exposure to phthalates.

Furthermore, if you believe that you have suffered bodily harm as a consequence of exposure to phthalates or plastics you should contact an experienced law firm right away to explore your rights.

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