Synthetic chemicals known as phthalates found in hundreds of consumer products people use on a daily basis may contribute to the premature deaths of more than 100,000 Americans between the ages 55 and 64 every year, an eye-opening new study found.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, phthalates — often called "everywhere chemicals" — are regularly used to make plastics more durable and are found in a variety of products ranging from vinyl flooring to children's toys to personal-care products like soaps, shampoos, and hair sprays.
In a study published Tuesday in peer-reviewed journal Environmental Pollution, scientists determined that people with the highest levels of phthalates in their systems had a greater risk of early death from any cause, but especially from cardiovascular mortality, CNN reported.
The study reportedly noted that exposure to the chemicals could contribute to between 91,000 and 107,000 premature deaths every year, consequently costing the U.S. some $40 billion annually in lost economic productivity.
Scientists came to the conclusion after measuring the urine concentration of phthalates in more than 5,000 adults between the ages of 55 and 64 and comparing those levels to the risk of early death over an average of 10 years, said the study's lead author Dr. Leonardo Trasande, a professor of pediatrics, environmental medicine, and population health at New York University Langone Health.
Trasande told CNN that the study "adds to the growing data base on the impact of plastics on the human body and bolsters public health and business cases for reducing or eliminating the use of plastics."
Phthalates are said to interfere with the body's mechanism for hormone production, known as the endocrine system, and are "linked with developmental, reproductive, brain, immune, and other problems," according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
CNN added that "prior research has connected phthalates with reproductive problems, such as genital malformations and undescended testes in baby boys and lower sperm counts and testosterone levels in adult males. Previous studies have also linked phthalates to childhood obesity, asthma, cardiovascular issues and cancer."
But Trasande, even while being adamant about the dangers of phthalates, cautioned that the study is not "definitive" and noted that more testing will need to be done.
The American Chemistry Council, which represents the U.S. plastic industry, has already denounced the study as "demonstrably inaccurate," complaining that it lumped all phthalates into one group rather than pointing out that high-molecular-weight phthalates demostrate less toxicity.
Nevertheless, Trasande advised Americans to minimize their exposure to the chemicals out of an abundance of caution.
"First, avoid plastics as much as you can. Never put plastic containers in the microwave or dishwasher, where the heat can break down the linings so they might be absorbed more readily," he said. "In addition, cooking at home and reducing your use of processed foods can reduce the levels of the chemical exposures you come in contact with."