Harmful chemicals invade everyone’s lives in surprising ways. Substances that can cause behavioral, neurological, and hormonal issues are in plastic food containers, water bottles, cosmetics, toys, and even sofas. These chemicals, used or encountered daily, are hurting people’s health and wallets, costs $340 billion in health-related costs annually in the U.S.
A new study looked at the impact of chemicals found in most homes that are known to affect the endocrine system. The research also determined their astounding economic impact. Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), loss of IQ, autism, and other examples of neurological and behavioral problems accounted for over 80 percent of the health care costs, according to researchers at New York University. Other health care issues attributed to the product ingredients in their research, published in “The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology,” a medical journal, include increased obesity, diabetes, male infertility, endometriosis and forms of cancer.
The health issues from substances that affect hormones produced in the endocrine system wind up costing about 2.3 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), result. The affected hormones help the body with energy levels, growth, reproduction, and more. Flame-retardants like PNDEs, phthalates used in scented products and cosmetics, and some pesticides were the most widely used chemicals that raised concerns about adverse-health consequences.
The study derived the economic impact of the chemicals using analysis of blood and urine samples gathered during the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Since 2009, that study has gathered the samples and data on disease risk factors from 5,000 volunteers. The research team than employed computer models to project frequency of 15 diseases or conditions that can be attributed to chemical exposure. They then estimated the health care costs for treating each one.
Why in U.S. Not Europe
A similar study was conducted within the European Union. The economic impact of endocrine-damaging substances was calculated as $271 billion in the EU, which represents 1.28 percent of their GDP.
The problem with harmful chemicals used daily is worse in the U.S. than in Europe because of politics and regulatory process differences. Several of the chemicals involved were already banned or not as widely used in Europe, such as brominated flame-retardants in furniture. Additionally, the EU established criteria this year for identifying potentially harmful chemicals that affect endocrine glands. Critics say they are not adequate, but they are a start.
In Europe, manufacturers not have to prove household chemicals used in products are safe before they go on sale. In the U.S., conversely, many potentially dangerous compounds on the market have not been tested. There is no proactive approach to testing substances used in many products before they are in stores.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was recently given more authority to test and ban hazardous chemicals, but after they are in use. For example, the agency reportedly identified five substances that the agency plans to put on a “fast track” for testing. However, thousands more will not be tested in the foreseeable future, including many incorporated in the study.
In the meantime, daily exposure to health-hurting, endocrine-disrupting chemicals can be minimized without a strain on the wallet. Suggestions include avoiding putting plastic items in the microwave or dishwasher. (Microwave safe means the container will not be harmed, not the user.) Opt for glass containers or stoneware. Also, avoid using pesticides and other things that obviously contain chemicals.
Written and Edited by Dyanne Weiss
The Lancet Diabetes & Endrocrinology: Exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the USA: a population-based disease burden and cost analysis
Daily Mail: Massive US health tab for hormone-disrupting chemicals
VOA News: Everyday Chemicals Cost US Billions in Health Care, Disability
Photo of glass food container courtesy of Rubbermaid Products