KEY POINTS

  • Researchers associated phthalate exposure with cardiovascular and all-cause deaths
  • Phthalate exposure may cost $39.9–47.1 billion in lost economic productivity each year
  • Researchers say "regulatory action is urgently needed"

Daily exposure to a common class of chemicals, known as phthalates, is linked to about 100,000 premature deaths per year among adults in the United States, a new study has found. 

Phthalates are a group of chemicals that are typically used in items people use every day such as plastic food packaging, toys, detergents and even vinyl flooring, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) noted. They are also used in personal care products such as shampoos, soaps, perfumes and aftershave.

People can get exposed to phthalates when the consumer products break down and end up being ingested, New York University (NYU) Langone Health noted in a news release. For instance, people can get exposed to phthalates if they eat or drink foods that have contacted items containing the chemicals, breathe in phthalate particles in the air or when children put their hands in their mouths and ingest the particles.

These products have been known to interfere with hormone function in humans and may pose potential dangers to human health.

"Accelerating evidence of endocrine-related morbidity has raised alarm about the ubiquitous use of phthalates in the human environment, but studies have not directly evaluated mortality in relation to these exposures," the researchers of a new study, published in the journal Environmental Pollution, wrote.

To look deeper into phthalates' associations with mortality, the researchers analyzed data from adults, aged 55 to 64, who were a part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2001 to 2010. 

The researchers found that people with the highest phthalate concentrations in their urine were actually more likely to die of heart diseases, NYU Langone noted. Furthermore, those in the high-phthalate exposure group were also more likely to die of any cause compared to those with low exposure.

"In a nationally representative sample, phthalate exposures were associated with all-cause and cardiovascular mortality," the researchers wrote.

"Our findings reveal that increased phthalate exposure is linked to early death, particularly due to heart disease," study lead author Dr. Leonard Trasande said in the news release. "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."

The researchers also looked at the cost of productivity loss caused by the deaths.

"Extrapolating to the population of 55–64 year old Americans, we identified 90,761–107,283 attributable deaths and $39.9–47.1 billion in lost economic productivity," the researchers wrote.

Dr. Trasande stressed that the study does not establish a cause and effect relationship between phthalate exposure and early deaths. It does add to the evidence for the "societal costs" of chemical exposures.

"Our research suggests that the toll of this chemical on society is much greater than we first thought," Dr. Trasande said. "The evidence is undeniably clear that limiting exposure to toxic phthalates can help safeguard Americans' physical and financial well-being."

Further studies are needed to "corroborate observations" and look at the specific role that the chemicals play in the body, the researchers added.

Shampoo Plastic Bottles Representation. Photo: Pixabay