Hard enough to pronounce and spell, phthalates (often called plasticizers), a group of chemicals used in everything from plastic containers to makeup, had been linked by a study to 100,000 deaths a year in the United States.
Scientists believe that phthalates enter the body through consumer items like food and cosmetics that come in contact with them, said an AFP report.
Daily exposure to phthalates such as from plastic containers to makeup, may lead to approximately 100,000 deaths in older Americans annually, a study from New York University warned Tuesday.
The chemicals, which can be found in hundreds of products such as toys, clothing and shampoo, have been known for decades to be "hormone disruptors," affecting a person's endocrine system.
Phthalates are used to make plastics more durable and are often called plasticizers. They help dissolve other materials. Phthalates are in vinyl flooring and wall covering, detergents, lubricating oils, food packaging, pharmaceuticals, blood tags and tubing and personal care products (soaps, shampoos, nail polish, aftershave lotions, perfumes and hair sprays).
Phthalates, a family of industrial chemicals used to soften polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic and as solvents in cosmetics and other consumer products, can damage the liver, kidneys, lungs, and reproductive system.
They are not chemically bound to plastics, so they can be released from consumer products into the environment and may result in human exposure. There is public concern about phthalates because of their widespread use, including in products for children, and their potential effects on human health.
In 2017, the Consumer Product Safety Commission of the US banned the use of eight ortho-phthalates in children's toys and child-care articles. But in terms of their use in vinyl plastics and personal care products, there's currently no specific legislation by other governmental agencies.
Links to obesity, diabetes and heart disease
The toxins can enter the body through such items and are linked to obesity, diabetes and heart disease, said the study published in the journal Environmental Pollution.
The research, which was carried out by New York University's Grossman School of Medicine and includes some 5,000 adults aged 55 to 64, shows that those with higher concentrations of phthalates in their urine were more likely to die of heart disease.
However, higher concentrations did not appear to increase the risk of death by cancer.
Prenatal exposure phthalates would disrupt the levels of thyroid, sex hormone, and 25-hydroxyvitamin D in pregnant women or offspring, which results in preterm birth, preeclampsia, maternal glucose disorders, infant cryptorchidism, infant hypospadias, and shorter anogenital distance in newborns.
Early death from heart disease
"Our findings reveal that increased phthalate exposure is linked to early death, particularly due to heart disease," said study lead author Leonardo Trasande.
"Until now, we have understood that the chemicals connect to heart disease, and heart disease in turn is a leading cause of death, but we had not yet tied the chemicals themselves to death."
Trasande cautioned, however, that the study does not establish a direct cause and effect relationship between phthalate exposure and death, in part because the specific biological mechanisms of that relationship are unclear.
"Our research suggests that the toll of this chemical on society is much greater than we first thought," Trasande said.
But it "is undeniably clear that limiting exposure to toxic phthalates can help safeguard Americans' physical and financial wellbeing," he adds.
Other studies have already linked phthalates to more than 10,000 deaths per year associated with reduced testosterone levels in adult men.
Among men aged 20 to 39 years, low-molecular-weight phthalates were associated with a median 4.76% lower free testosterone (95% CI, –8.62 to –0.75) and a median 4.6% lower bioavailable testosterone (95% CI, –8.55 to –0.47).
The study added that the economic loss due to phthalates is between $40 billion and $47 billion -- more than four times what was previously estimated.