Study: Harmful Chemicals in Plastics Drive U.S. Healthcare Costs Beyond $250 Billion in 2018

Jan. 16, 2024
Authors calle on Global Plastics Treaty stakeholders to include interventions that reduce EDC exposure to protect public health and the environment.

Plastics containing harmful chemicals, including bisphenols and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), resulted in approximately $250 billion in increased health care costs for the U.S. in 2018, according to a study funded by the National Institute of Health and the environmental nonprofit Passport Foundation. 

The costs are equivalent to 1.22% of the gross domestic product in the U.S., the study’s authors note. 

The study, published Jan. 11 in the Journal of the Endocrine Society, shows that endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in plastics are linked to cancer, diabetes, and various endocrine diseases. The chemicals can leach and contaminate humans and the environment, according to the report. 

The authors called on Global Plastics Treaty stakeholders to include interventions that reduce EDC exposure to protect public health and the environment.

“Our study drives home the need to address chemicals used in plastic materials as part of the Global Plastics Treaty,” said study author Leonardo Trasande, M.D., M.P.P., of NYU Grossman School of Medicine and NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service in New York, N.Y. Trasande has represented the Society at intergovernmental meetings to address plastic pollution and its health effects. “Actions through the Global Plastics Treaty and other policy initiatives will reduce these costs in proportion to the actual reductions in chemical exposures achieved.”

The researchers analyzed existing studies on EDCs to identify how many diseases and disabilities were attributed to chemicals in plastics. The chemicals they studied commonly found in plastics included polybrominated diphenyl ethers, phthalates, bisphenols and PFAS.

The researchers updated previously published data on disease burden and cost estimates for these chemicals in the U.S. to 2018. They combined the data and estimated $250 billion in disease burden from plastic exposure in 2018.

Michael Belliveau, who co-authored the study and serves as the executive director of Defend Our Health located in Portland, Maine, emphasized the need for policymakers and industry leaders to take action. 

“We urge negotiators to finalize a Global Plastics Treaty that caps and reduces plastic production and eliminate EDCs as plastics additives,” he said. 

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