The plastic plague: Hormone-disrupting chemicals in everyday things like water bottles DO cause cancer, diabetes, ADHD and autism – and cost US $340 BILLION a year


  • Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are in thousands of products
  • Products range from plastic water bottles to cheap toys and cosmetics
  • Study warns they cause neurological damage and behavioral problems
  • Exposure to these chemicals cost the US at least $340bn in health a year 
  • The NYU study looks at bisphenol A in polycarbonate plastic (used for hard reusable bottles) and phthalates (in many US disposable plastic bottles)
  • Phthalates are banned in the European Union and wouldn’t be in Britain
  • Critics have hit out at the NYU study for being ‘selective’; European Commission questioned the validity of their calculation methods

Plastic bottles contain hormone-disrupting chemicals that can cause cancer, diabetes, ADHD and autism, scientists claimed in a report on Tuesday.

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) interfere with the body’s hormonal system, affecting development and leaving the body open to a staggering range of diseases.

But they are found in thousands of everyday products, ranging from plastic and metal food containers, to detergents, flame retardants, toys and cosmetics.

These chemicals are responsible for scores of illnesses – costing the US an eye-watering $340 billion in health-related costs each year, a bombshell report by NYU Langone said.

The most common EDC-related illness is neurological – including attention-ADHD, autism and loss of IQ.

The invisible but dangerous chemicals also boosted obesity, diabetes, some cancers, male infertility and a painful condition known as endometriosis, the abnormal growth of tissue outside the uterus.


In a country where plastic is rife, these illnesses are not as rare as we may think, according to lead author Dr Leonardo Trasande.

The new study by NYU Langone claims the economic impact of the chemicals leaves a huge, two per cent dent in the US’ gross domestic product (GDP) each year.

‘Our research adds to the growing evidence on the tremendous economic as well as human health costs of endocrine-disrupting chemicals,’ Dr Trasande, an associate professor at NYU Langone in New York City, said.

‘This has the potential to develop into a much larger health and economic issue if no policy action is taken,’ he told AFP.

Dr Trasande places emphasis on bisphenol A in polycarbonate plastic (used for hard reusable bottles and food containers) and phthalates (used for disposable water bottles).

Some of the chemicals highlighted in the report, including phthalates used in bottles, are banned in the European Union – and would therefore not be on sale in Britain.

MailOnline is attempting to find out whether some of the toxins may still be in UK plastic products. But a similar study last year estimated that the chemicals cost the EU health systems $271 billion.

The chemicals affect the body’s endocrine tissues, which produce essential hormones that help regulate energy levels, reproduction, growth, development, as well as our response to stress and injury.

Mimicking naturally occurring hormones such as estrogen and androgen, EDCs lock on to receptors within a human cell and block the body’s own hormones from binding with it.

Recent research has raised red flags showing that ‘environmental contaminants can disrupt the endocrine system leading to adverse-health consequences,’ according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

In the US, the biggest chemical culprit by far among the thousands of manmade molecules suspected of interfering with human hormones are so-called PBDEs, found in flame retardants.

Bisphenol A, used to line tin food cans, along with phthalates in plastic food containers and many cosmetics, were also held to be responsible for upward of $50 billion worth of health damages.

A similar study concluded last year that health-related costs of EDCs in the European Union were some $271 billion, about 1.28 percent of GPD.

Crucially, the main drivers of disease and disability were different on either side of the Atlantic, Trasande said.

‘US costs are higher mainly because of the widespread use in furniture of brominated flame retardants,’ which were banned in the EU in 2008, he explained.

The blood level of these chemicals in the average American would be in the top five percent of Europeans today.

By contrast, the health costs associated with pesticides in food were 10 times higher in the EU than in the United States, where more stringent regulations were put in place to protect pregnant women and children.

To put a figure on the impact of EDCs, the researchers reviewed blood and urine samples from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which has gathered data since 2009 on major disease risk factors from 5,000 volunteers.

Computer models were then used to project how much each of 15 diseases or conditions was attributable to chemical exposure, and the estimated health costs for each one.

The study was published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, a medical journal.

Flame retardants and pesticides in particular are known to affect the developing brain and can lead to loss of IQ.


‘Each IQ point lost corresponds to approximately two per cent in lost productivity,’ Trasande said.

The report has come under fierce criticism from the American Chemical Society, which slammed the findings as baseless and sensationalist.

In a statement released shortly after the report’s publication, the ACS said:

‘The paper’s conclusions are speculative at best and based on incomplete, inaccurate information about the relationship between chemicals and human health.

‘Further, the methods the authors used to generate the economic data have been widely criticized by economists, scientists and even the European Commission.

‘The only thing more troubling than the paper’s many flaws is that it does virtually nothing to advance the protection of public health.

‘The vast majority of studies cited by the authors do not show that exposure to specific chemicals causes health effects.

‘Rather, the authors have cherry-picked studies that show incomplete and inconsistent correlations between exposure to certain chemicals and specific health outcomes, many of which have been strongly disputed by independent scientists.’

The costs and benefits of regulation should be openly debated, the authors argued, citing the decision in the 1970s to ban lead in paint, and then 20 years later in gasoline.

Commenting in the same journal, Michele La Merrill, an expert in environmental toxicology at the University of California in Davis, said the new findings ‘provide a lesson on the lasting economic effects of harmful chemicals.’

They should ‘inspire a policy shift to end the cat-and-mouse game currently employed the US government and industry.’

The EU set broad criteria in June for identifying potentially harmful EDCs, but consumer and environmental groups said they fell far short of what is needed.

In a statement to Daily Mail Online on Wednesday, Philip Law, director general of the British Plastics Federation, insisted European customers should not panic.

‘Consumer safety is of paramount importance to the plastics industry,’ Law said.

‘UK companies ensure that they comply with strict standards set by the UK and the EU.

‘The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and European Food Standards Authority (EFSA) regulate the very limited use of specific chemicals alleged to be endocrine-disruptors used in the manufacturing of plastics through legislation such as REACH and Food Contact regulations.

‘The European Commission conducts risk assessment activities to ensure the continued safety of consumers; they have thoroughly examined the chemicals used in plastics manufacturing and found that consumers are not at risk.’

Nick von Westenholz, CEO of the Crop Protection Association, said: ‘Everyday life is full of substances that interact with the endocrine system, coffee or milk for example.

‘What’s needed in this debate is to differentiate between a potential effect, and whether in the real world there is actually harm.

‘Public health is the most important consideration in the use of crop protection products and in the EU, pesticides are subject to arguably the most stringent approvals process in the world.

‘It currently takes ten years, requires an average of 200 scientific studies and costs in excess of £150 million to bring a product to market, which ensures that pesticides are safe for human health and equip farmers to provide a healthy and affordable supply of food.’


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