Long Life and Health
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CNN: Avoid This Chemical If You Want to Live Longer

A toxic chemical found in many consumer products could be shortening your life!

CNN is reporting that synthetic chemicals called phthalates, found in hundreds of consumer products such as food storage containers, shampoo, makeup, perfume, and children’s toys, may contribute to some 91,000 to 107,000 premature deaths a year among people ages 55 to 64 in the United States, a new study found.

People with the highest levels of phthalates had a greater risk of death from any cause, especially cardiovascular mortality, according to the study published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Pollution.

The study estimated those deaths could cost the US about $40 to $47 billion each year in lost economic productivity.

“This study adds to the growing database on the impact of plastics on the human body and bolsters public health and business cases for reducing or eliminating the use of plastics,” said lead author Dr. Leonardo Trasande, a professor of pediatrics, environmental medicine, and population health at NYU Langone Health in New York City.

Phthalates are known to interfere with the body’s mechanism for hormone production, known as the endocrine system, and they are “linked with developmental, reproductive, brain, immune, and other problems,” according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Even small hormonal disruptions can cause “significant developmental and biological effects,” the NIEHS states.

This is not the first time that these chemicals used in plastics have gotten some bad press. 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.

“These chemicals have a rap sheet,” said Trasande, who also directs NYU Langone’s Center for the Investigation of Environmental Hazards. “And the fact of the matter is that when you look at the entire body of evidence, it provides a haunting pattern of concern.”

As you might imagine, the manufacturers that use these toxic chemicals in their products take an alternative view.

The American Chemistry Council, which represents the US chemical, plastics, and chlorine industries, shared this statement with CNN via email:

“Much of the content within Trasande et al.’s latest study is demonstrably inaccurate,” wrote Eileen Conneely, ACC’s senior director of chemical products and technology.

Almost Impossible to Avoid Being Exposed to Phthalates

Often called “everywhere chemicals” because they are so common, phthalates are added to consumer products such as PVC plumbing, vinyl flooring, rain- and stain-resistant products, medical tubing, garden hoses, and some children’s toys to make the plastic more flexible and harder to break.

Other common exposures come from the use of phthalates in food packaging, detergents, clothing, furniture, and automotive plastics. Phthalates are also added to personal care items such as shampoo, soap, hair spray, and cosmetics to make fragrances last longer.

People are exposed when they breathe contaminated air or eat or drink foods that come into contact with the plastic, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While they have been called the “everywhere chemicals,” according to the authors of the study, there are things you can do to minimize your exposure.

“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 suggested. “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.”

Here are other tips to reduce you and your family’s exposure:

  • Use unscented lotions and laundry detergents.
  • Use cleaning supplies without scents.
  • Use glass, stainless steel, ceramic, or wood to hold and store foods.
  • Buy fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables instead of canned and processed versions.
  • Encourage frequent hand washing to remove chemicals from hands.
  • Avoid air fresheners and all plastics labeled as No. 3, No. 6, and No. 7

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