Chemicals found in plastic food containers and cosmetics may cause early death in older adults, according to a new study. Photo by harrydona
Oct. 12 (UPI) -- Daily exposure to chemicals used in the manufacture of plastic food containers and cosmetics may cause up to 100,000 premature deaths among older people in the United States annually, a study published Tuesday by Environmental Pollution found.
Of more than 5,000 adults ages 55 to 64, those with the highest concentrations of chemicals called phthalates in their urine were more likely to die of heart disease than those with lower exposure, the data showed.
In addition, people in this high-exposure group were more likely to die from any cause than those in low-exposure groups, the researchers said.
However, high levels of the toxic chemicals in urine did not appear to increase risk for death from cancer, they said.
"Our research suggests that the toll of this chemical on society is much greater than we first thought," study co-author Dr. Leonardo Trasande said in a press release.
"The evidence is undeniably clear that limiting exposure to toxic phthalates can help safeguard Americans' physical and financial well-being," said Trasande, who is director of the Center for the Investigation of Environmental Hazards at NYU Langone Health in New York City.
Deaths caused by high levels of exposure to phthalates generates up to $47 billion in healthcare costs and lost productivity, according to Trasande and his colleagues.
Phthalates pose a potential danger to human health because the chemicals can interfere with the function of hormones, signaling compounds made in glands that circulate to influence processes in the body, research has found.
Exposure is believed to occur through buildup of these toxins as consumer products break down and are ingested, with exposure linked to obesity, diabetes and heart disease as well as mental health disorders, studies suggest.
For this study, Trasande and his colleagues analyzed data on phthalate levels found in urine samples obtained from adults who participated in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Survey from 2001 to 2010, an ongoing assessment of health led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The researchers also used data from the CDC's Wonder database, the U.S. Census Bureau and models from earlier studies to estimate the economic cost of early death in adults ages 55 to 64, a group they said is particularly vulnerable to phthalate exposure.
The findings, however, do not establish a direct cause and effect association between phthalate exposure and early death, in part because the specific biological mechanism that would account for the connection remains unclear, they said.
The researchers said they plan to further study the role these chemicals may play in hormone regulation and inflammation in the body.
"Our findings reveal that increased phthalate exposure is linked to early death, particularly due to heart disease," Trasande said.
"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 said.