According to scientists, plastic contains hormone-disrupting chemicals that are causing cancer, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), autism, diabetes, obesity, breast cancer, male infertility, endometriosis, and even a loss of IQ.
It is costing the US an estimated $340 billion in healthcare and 2 percent in gross domestic product (GDP) per year, which demonstrates its significant economic impact.
Dr. Trasande, an associate professor at NYU Langone in New York City, said: “Our research adds to the growing evidence on the tremendous economic as well as human health costs of endocrine-disrupting chemicals. This has the potential to develop into a much larger health and economic issue of no policy action is taken.”
How does it affect the body?
Researchers studied the blood and urine samples of 5000 volunteers from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in order to put a figure on the impact of EDC’s and found that it was causing at least 15 types of disease, costing the US $340 billion per year in healthcare.
Thousands of everyday products contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDC’s), ranging from plastic bottles and food containers to toys, cosmetics, detergents and flame retardants.
They have been found to interfere with the body’s endocrine tissues, which are essential in maintaining hormonal balance, energy levels, growth, reproductive health, and our response to stress and injury. EDC’s mimic the body’s naturally occurring hormones, such as estrogen (the female sex hormone) and androgen (the male sex hormone), which causes them to bind with the cells in the body and block natural hormones from doing so.
Imbalanced hormones result in an imbalanced metabolism, neurological system, immune system, reproductive system, and more.
The most common negative health effect has been found to be associated with the neurological system, which causes ADHD, autism, and sometimes even a lowered IQ.
Which plastics and chemicals are the most dangerous?
Dr. Trasande has emphasized two products in particular, namely bisphenol A (BPA) and Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), which are found in hard re-usable plastic bottles and food containers and disposable water bottles.
BPA is also used to line tin cans and can be found in fragranced plastic products, cosmetics, and cleaning products. Phthalates are commonly found in consumer food packaging, children’s products, and medical devices.
In September 2008, the NTP Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction completed a review of BPA, concluding that it can affect the brain, behavior, and prostate glands in fetuses, infants, and children at the current human exposure and is causing upward of $50 billion in health damages.
In the US, the most dangerous chemical was found to be the PBDE’s found in flame retardants, with exposure to it associated with the most significant negative health effects.
Michele La Merrill, an expert in environmental toxicology at the University of California in Davis, said: “The new findings provide a lesson on the lasting economic effects of harmful chemicals. They should inspire a policy shift to end the cat-and-mouse game currently employed by the US government and the plastics industry.”
The European Union has banned the use of phthalates and has set broad criteria for identifying potentially harmful EDC’s, but environmental and consumer groups insist that more needs to be done to keep society healthy.
Philip Law, director-general of the British Plastics Federation, said: “Consumer safety is of paramount importance to the plastics industry. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and European Food Standards Authority (EFSA) regulate the very limited use of specific chemicals alleged to be endocrine disruptors used in the manufacturing of plastics through legislation such as REACH and Food Contact regulations.”
Reducing the use of fragranced products, plastic bottles, canned food, and filtering tap water are some of the ways to reduce exposure to EDC’s, according to the Natural Resource Defence Council (NRDC).