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Do you want to hear something infuriating? 

Probably not, right, but we’ve got some disturbing news for you that doesn’t need to be ignored. 

A recent NYU Langone study shows that daily exposure to phthalates, which are chemicals used to manufacture plastic food containers and many cosmetics, may lead to around 100,000 premature deaths among older Americans each year. 

And it costs between $40 billion and $47 billion a year, which, by the way, is more than quadruple that of previous estimates — if you want to put a monetary value on human lives. 

Scientists have known for decades that phthalates have been shown to pose a potential danger to human health due to the fact that they can (and do) mess with the function of hormones. The buildup of these toxins in our systems is believed to be linked to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

The study, led by researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, analyzed over 5,000 adults between 55 and 64. The results showed those with the highest concentrations of phthalates in their urine were more likely to die of heart disease than those with lower exposure.

Interestingly enough, Americans in the high-exposure group were more likely to die of any cause than those in the low-exposure group. However, high levels of the toxins did not appear to increase the risk of death due to cancer.

Lead author Leonardo Trasande, MD, Professor of Pediatrics in the Department of Pediatrics and professor in the Departments of Environmental Medicine and Population Health, said: 

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

He warns that the new study does not establish a direct cause and effect association between phthalate exposure and early deaths; the specific biological mechanism that might help explain the connection remains unclear. The study investigators plan to explore further the role these chemicals may play in hormone regulation and inflammation in the body.

However, the new results add to mounting evidence of societal costs related to continued heavy exposure to the chemicals, Dr. Trasande ascertains. For instance, past research linked more than 10,000 deaths a year to lowered testosterone levels in adult men attributed to phthalate exposure which cost Americans nearly $9 billion in lost economic productivity. Again — if you can put a monetary value on human life. 

The study, published online October 12, 2021, in the journal Environmental Pollution, was intended to explore further links between phthalate exposure and deaths of all causes in the United States and quantify the resulting economic costs, according to Dr. Trasande.

The research team analyzed phthalates found in urine samples obtained from adults who participated in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Survey from 2001 to 2010. The analysis was limited to those whose cause of death had been followed through 2015. 

The investigators also used data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Wonder database, the U.S. Census Bureau, and models from earlier studies to estimate the economic cost of premature death for this group.

“Our research suggests that the toll of this chemical on society is much greater than we first thought. The evidence is undeniably clear that limiting exposure to toxic phthalates can help safeguard Americans’ physical and financial wellbeing,” explains Dr. Trasande. 

The National Institute of Health provided funding for the study through grants.