In a recent study, the detrimental impact of chemicals leaching from plastics on Americans' health and economy has been unveiled. Published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society, the research shows that in 2018 alone, the hormone-disrupting effects of plastics in the nation’s food and water resulted in a quarter of a trillion dollars in additional healthcare costs.
Unveiling the Toll on Health and Economy
The findings indicate that these health care costs accounted for 5% of total U.S. healthcare costs and more than 1% of the national gross domestic product (GDP). To put this in perspective, it exceeded the year-over-year GDP growth of about 3% in 2018, with a significant portion attributed to chemicals like PFAS, phthalates, and biophenols.
A Dangerous Experiment: Surge in Plastics Production
The surge in plastics production is referred to as a "dangerous and unnatural experiment" by Leonardo Trasande, a pediatrician at New York University’s School of Medicine. The study connects micro- and nanoplastics, resulting from plastics breaking down, to increased conditions such as obesity, preterm birth, cancer, and heart disease by interfering with the body's chemical messengers.
The Economic Burden of Plastic-Related Health Issues
The healthcare costs stem from chemicals leaching directly from intact plastics into food, with polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), phthalates, and PFAS being major contributors. PBDEs, used as flame retardants, accounted for $161 billion in costs, while phthalates, contributing to obesity and diabetes, incurred approximately $67 billion. PFAS, known as "forever chemicals," added another $22 billion in health impacts.
A Wake-Up Call: Urgent Action Needed
The study suggests that the actual impacts of plastic pollution are likely much higher than estimated, considering the focus on the best-documented costs and diseases related to a select group of plastic chemicals. The researchers emphasize that reducing exposure by cutting the use of nonessential plastics is a feasible solution, pointing to a need for both personal and policy changes.
A Call for Global Solutions
The scientists underscore the importance of a binding international agreement, such as the ongoing United Nations treaty to reduce global plastic pollution. As the fossil fuel industry aims to increase plastics production, there is a growing need for political processes that prioritize human health impacts and work towards reducing the environmental and health toll of plastic use.
In conclusion, the study highlights a pressing need to address the pervasive issue of plastic-induced health problems and calls for a collective effort to mitigate the impact on both health and the economy.
Source: The HILL - Plastics pollution led to $250 billion in disease over one year