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'Forever chemicals' could cost U.S. population billions in health care, study says

A new study finds exposure to "forever chemicals" could cost Americans billions of dollars in medical care and missed work over the lifetime of the current population. Photo by geralt/Pixabay
A new study finds exposure to "forever chemicals" could cost Americans billions of dollars in medical care and missed work over the lifetime of the current population. Photo by geralt/Pixabay

July 26 (UPI) -- Daily exposure to "forever chemicals," which are found in drinking water, soil and household products and are linked to serious health issues, could cost Americans billions of dollars in medical bills and decreased worker productivity over the lifetime of the current population, according to a new study.

Researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine estimate the resulting economic burden of treating cancer, thyroid disease, childhood obesity and other medical conditions caused by PFAS, a group of more than 4,700 man-made chemicals, could cost Americans a minimum of $5.5 billion and as much as $63 billion.

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"Our findings add to the substantial and still-mounting body of evidence suggesting that exposure to PFAS is harming our health and undermining the economy," study co-author Linda Kahn, an assistant professor in pediatrics and population health at NYU Langone Health, said in a statement.

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PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are called "forever chemicals" because they do not break down in the environment, can move through soil to contaminate drinking water and can build up in fish and wildlife, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

RELATED EPA tests underestimate 'forever chemicals' in drinking water, study says

PFAS are found in water and oil-resistant clothing, electronics and nonstick cookware. They also are found in food that comes into contact with some packaging. The chemicals are believed to disrupt how hormones function and have been linked to cancer.

Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency announced a plan to restrict pollution from a cluster of long-lasting PFAS found in water supplies and food sources. The EPA plan set aggressive timelines to establish enforceable drinking water limits and to hold polluters accountable.

And last month, the EPA updated its health advisories on "forever chemicals," saying they cause negative health effects at much lower levels than previously thought.

RELATED EPA: 'Forever chemicals' harm health at lower levels than previously thought

"The updated advisory levels, which are based on new science and consider lifetime exposure, indicate that some negative health effects may occur with concentrations of PFOA or PFOS in water that are near zero and below EPA's ability to detect at this time," the EPA said in a statement June 15.

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Three weeks later, an analysis of drinking water in the United States found the EPA tests missed large levels of "forever chemicals." The analysis, by The Guardian, found the EPA's testing was too limited in scope and undercounted PFAS pollutants exposing millions to health risks.

In Tuesday's study, published in the journal Exposure and Health, researchers at NYU Langone identified 13 medical conditions in about 5,000 Americans that may have resulted from PFAS exposure, such as infertility, endometriosis and diabetes.

RELATED Study: 'Forever chemicals' linked to increased risk for high blood pressure

The five top medical conditions with the strongest links to PFAS exposure included low birth weight, childhood obesity, kidney cancer, testicular cancer and hypothyroidism.

Childhood obesity was estimated to cost the current population the most at $2.7 billion. Hypothyroidism in women, a condition in which the thyroid cannot release enough hormones into the bloodstream, was the second costliest at $1.26 billion.

The study's senior author, Dr. Leonardo Trasande at NYU Langone, said the research proves it makes sense to invest more to get rid of "forever chemicals" and the costs associated with them.

"Based on our estimates, the cost of eradicating contamination and replacing this class of chemical with safer alternatives is ultimately justified when considering the tremendous economic and medical risks of allowing them to persist in the environment," Trasande said.

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