Endocrine-disrupting chemicals in plastics including poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are estimated to be costing the country billions in health care annually, a group of researchers found in a newly published study in the Journal of the Endocrine Society.

Researchers examined how certain chemicals in plastics might be causing diseases and health problems, and how much those issues cost the U.S. An estimated $250 billion in increased health care costs was attributed to those issues in 2018 alone, according to the study.

“Our study found plastics contribute substantially to disease and associated social costs in the U.S., about $250 billion in 2018 alone. These costs are equivalent to 1.22% of the gross domestic product. The diseases due to plastics run the entire life course from preterm birth to obesity, heart disease and cancers,” said study author Leonardo Trasande in a press release. “Our study drives home the need to address chemicals used in plastic materials as part of the Global Plastics Treaty.”

What Are the Chemicals Found in the Study?

Researchers studied chemicals commonly found in plastics like polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), phthalates, bisphenols and PFAS, also called forever chemicals because they bioaccumulate and do not break down.

Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDE)
Commonly used as flame retardants in various products like furniture, electronics and textiles and Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF). PBDE is linked to problems with brain development, impacted learning and memory and thyroid issues. It’s known as a toxin to humans and the environment, according to the EPA.
Used to make plastics more flexible and durable and can be found in vinyl flooring, food packaging and personal care items. Phthalates are known to impact the reproductive system and are linked to issues like decreased fertility and developmental problems in children.
Bisphenols (BPA)
Found in hard plastics and resins, used in water bottles, food containers and lining of metal food cans. BPA can mimic estrogen and lead to potential hormonal imbalances and is linked to reproductive issues and heart disease.
Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)
Used in nonstick cookware, water-repellent clothing and stain resistant fabrics and some firefighting foams. PFAS are nicknamed ‘forever chemicals’ because they do not easily break down in the environment and can accumulate in the human body.

Those hazardous, endocrine-disrupting chemicals are known to contaminate both humans and the environment and cause illnesses like cancer, reproductive issues, diabetes and even death.

Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced National Primary Drinking Water Regulations for six PFAS that would establish legally enforceable contamination levels and tasked utility companies with monitoring and treating water.

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Global Plastics Treaty Aims To Decrease New Plastics

The Global Plastics Treaty (GPT) is an international agreement that is aimed at addressing plastic pollution across the globe. The goal is to reduce plastic production, improve recycling and waste management and encourage global cooperation.

“Our study drives home the need to address chemicals used in plastic materials as part of the Global Plastics Treaty,” Trasande said.

The GPT could include interventions to reduce endocrine-disrupting chemicals exposure to protect people and the environment, according to the Endocrine Society.

“This study shows that preventing plastic pollution can reduce the incidence of disease, disability and early death, and its attendant human suffering and health care costs,” said co-author Michael Belliveau, executive director of Defend Our Health based in Portland, Maine.

“Policymakers and market leaders must detoxify and slash the use of petrochemical plastics and endocrine-disrupting chemicals. We urge negotiators to finalize a Global Plastics Treaty that caps and reduces plastic production and eliminate EDCs as plastics additives.”