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.