The Health and Economic Costs of Everyday Chemicals Added to Nearly Everything
A detailed economic analysis recently completed by the New York University Langone Medical Centre suggests that low-level daily exposure to chemicals found in many products has a large economic cost to the United States — in the order of $340 billion annually. The costs referred to are health care expenditures and lost earnings. The report was published on October 17, 2016, in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology on-line.
The lead researcher, Dr. Leonardo Trasande, stated that the statistical modelling used in the study provided economic figures “on the low end of the scale.” Canadian readers may wonder if the costs to the Canadian economy would be similar per capita, adjusted for our lower population, since Canadians use so many of the same products containing the same endocrine-disrupting chemicals.
Another report published in February 2016 and summarized in Science Daily focused on health effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals and their economic burden in the European Union (EU), and concluded that health care expenditures and lost earnings caused by low-level exposure to the chemicals is costing the EU at least 1.4 billion Euros annually.
An earlier study published in the same journal in February of 2015 had an even higher estimate of the economic costs to the EU of illness caused by long-term, low-level exposure to a variety of endocrine-disrupting chemicals: that report placed the likely economic costs at between 150 and 260 billion Euros each year.
Better Testing Needed
A report published in March, 2012, concluded that testing relied upon to determine the safety of chemicals is inadequate to show longer-term effects of low-dose exposure. One of its findings was that low-dose exposure “can result in significant health effects.”
Laura Vandenberg, PhD. of Tufts University in Medford, Mass., lead author of the 2012 study stated, “Current testing paradigms are missing important, sensitive endpoints, and fundamental changes in chemical testing and safety determination are needed to protect human health.” Some would argue that better testing is needed to protect the health of wildlife as well — fish, bees and other pollinators, and other creatures large and small who may be more important to ecological , economic and bodily human health than is commonly understood at this time.
What are those chemicals?
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interfere with the functions of hormones in our bodies. According to the National Institute of Health Sciences, they are “chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife.”
They include a broad range of chemicals such as bisphenol A (now being phased out of use in such items as water bottles, linings of cans containing food, toys, and baby soothers); phthalates, used in cosmetic products, detergents and various plastics; polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB)-like polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, found inflame retardants used in children’s clothing, upholstery fabrics and packaging; DDT; and a number of pesticides that are used on a wide range of food crops.
Endocrine disruptors, as readers can see from the paragraph above, are found in many products that we all use every day — including but not limited to: food, and the cans or plastic containers it comes in; other plastic products such as toys, baby teethers and soothers; cosmetics, shampoos, and detergents; carpeting and upholstery fabrics; clothing; and various building materials. They are all around us. They are being accumulated in large quantities in our garbage dumps. And now, they’re inside us, too.
What are the Health Effects?
Researchers found that the outcomes of exposure to endocrine disruptors include birth defects, obesity, endometriosis, diabetes, autism, heart disease and strokes, learning disorders, infertility and male reproductive dysfunctions, lower IQ, neurobehavioral problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and some cancers.
The studies cited here focused on economic costs of the ailments resulting from exposure to endocrine disruptors; the cost in human suffering is not as easy to quantify, but bears consideration.
How Can We Avoid Exposure?
One of the researchers, Teresa M. Attina, MD, PhD, suggests a number of “safe and simple” ways to limit exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals:
· don’t microwave food in plastic containers, or covered by plastic wrap;
· wash plastic containers by hand instead of in a dishwasher;
· avoid using plastic containers with the numbers 3, 6, or 7 inside the recycle symbol;
· use only fragrance-free cosmetics and grooming aids that contain no phthalates.
Given that pesticides are among the endocrine-disrupting culprits, other sensible steps are to eat organic foods as much as possible, to avoid processed foods, and to read food and other product labels with a critical eye — before deciding whether or not to buy.