Disease Burden from Exposure to the Chemicals of Plastics

Plastic Synthesis – Seated PersonScientific publications keep sending us signals that all of the plastic we are heaping into our lives may be eating away at our health. Just this month alone, two new publications have us thinking about the disease burden that may result from exposure to the chemicals of plastics. One, in the Journal of the Endocrine Society offers an estimate of that burden in 2018 – about a quarter of a trillion dollars in the U.S.

The other, in the Journal of Hazardous Materials, tells us that drinking beverages from aluminum or tin cans may expose people, especially young children, to hazardous levels of an endocrine-disrupting chemical known as BPA.

Disease Burden

Leonardo Trasande and colleagues analyzed the literature on disease related to exposure to a wide range of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in plastics. In so doing, they set out to estimate what fraction of the economic burden of disease might be attributable to exposure to those chemicals. That burden comes from a wide range of health harms – obesity, cardiovascular mortality, endometriosis, intellectual disability from prenatal exposures, and more. The authors tell us:

“The costs of plastic pollution will continue to accumulate as long as exposures continue at current levels.”

Exposure in Canned Drinks

Jaye Marchiandi and colleagues studied the exposure to EDCs in beverages from a wide range of packaging materials – plastic, glass, carton, aluminium, and tin cans. They found at least one EDC in 144 of 162 non-alcoholic beverages they sampled. They found higher levels of one particular chemical – BPA – in canned beverages than in beverages from glass or plastic containers. In fact, they concluded that the levels of exposure of BPA exposure are quite concerning. They write:

“The calculated daily intake of detected EDCs showed that exposure to BPA from per capita beverage consumption of 364 mL/day are up to 2000-fold higher than the newly revised safety guideline for BPA recommended by the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority). Overall, these findings suggest that BPA exposure poses a potential health hazard for individuals who regularly consume non-alcoholic beverages packaged in aluminium or tin cans, particularly young children.”

A Glimmer of Hope

In these reports, there is a bit of hope to be found. Through the United Nations 175 nations have committed to finalize a Global Plastics Treaty by the end of this year. The negotiations to do this are quite bumpy. But if the world can meet this goal, Trasande et al tell us that the benefits would be great:

“We conclude that the Global Plastics Treaty should reduce the use of chemicals of concern, particularly PFAS, bisphenols, flame retardants, and phthalates. The benefits to these reductions are substantial, as reduced exposures will lead to savings in health-care costs due to lower disease burdens. These benefits in the United States alone are likely to be in the billions of dollars and accrue annually as sustained reductions in exposures are achieved.”

Better health and less economic burden – what’s not to like about that?

Click here for the Trasande paper and here for the Marchiandi paper. For further perspective, click here and here.

Plastic Synthesis – Seated Person, painting by Umberto Boccioni / WikiArt

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January 24, 2024

One Response to “Disease Burden from Exposure to the Chemicals of Plastics”

  1. January 29, 2024 at 8:54 am, jhonson said:

    Glass, in this context, emerges as a potential solution. The inert nature of glass provides a barrier against the leaching of harmful chemicals, presenting a contrasting relationship with the health concerns associated with plastics. Choosing glass over plastic for packaging and storage can mitigate the risk of chemical exposure, contributing to a healthier living environment.