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Synthetic chemical found in hundreds of products can lead to premature deaths, study finds

Exposure to the chemical could lead to roughly 100,000 premature deaths among Americans between the ages of 55 and 64.
Credit: Karin & Uwe Annas - stock.adobe.com

TAMPA, Fla. — Daily exposure to a synthetic chemical called phthalates, which is found in hundreds of consumer products, can lead to premature deaths, a new study found.

Phthalates is used to make plastic products more flexible, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The chemical can be found in food packaging, cosmetics, children's toys and medical devices. 

The study, which was published Tuesday in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Pollution, found exposure to phthalates could lead to roughly 100,000 premature deaths among Americans between the ages of 55 and 64. Researchers say adults who showed high concentrations of the synthetic chemical in their urine were more likely to die of heart disease. 

Those deaths also came with a price. Researchers estimated the premature deaths cost the U.S. economy between $40 and $47 billion in lost productivity. 

"Our findings reveal that increased phthalate exposure is linked to early death, particularly due to heart disease," said the study's lead author, Dr. Leonardo Trasande, a professor of pediatrics, environmental medicine and population health at NYU Langone Health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, previous studies of phthalates have shown it affects the reproductive system in animals. However, it's still not clear the full extent it has on human health. 

Often called plasticizers, phthalates exist in hundreds of products like vinyl flooring, lubricating oils and soaps, shampoos and hair sprays.