Chemical in household food containers linked to early death, study finds

Oct 15, 2021
Phthalates are used in a number of everyday items – such as food containers and cosmetics. Source: Getty Images

A concerning new study has found a synthetic chemical found in several everyday items like kitchen food containers and lunchboxes is linked to roughly 100,000 premature deaths among older individuals per year in the United States.

The study, which was published in the journal Environmental Pollution and led by researchers from NYU Grossman School of Medicine, involved more than 5000 adults aged between of 55 and 64. It showed that those with the highest concentrations of the synthetic chemical known as phthalates in their urine were more likely to die of heart disease than those with lesser exposure.

Phthalates are used in a number of everyday items – such as food containers and cosmetics – and have been shown to interfere with the function of hormones. Exposure occurs following the build up of the chemical as products break down.

The study’s lead author, Dr Leonardo Trasande, said the research shows that “the toll of this chemical on society is much greater than we first thought”. “Our findings reveal that increased phthalate exposure is linked to early death, particularly due to heart disease,” he added. “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.”

Although the researchers plan on further investigating the link these chemicals have with poor health, Trasande stresses the importance of the latest findings. “The evidence is undeniably clear that limiting exposure to toxic phthalates can help safeguard Americans’ physical and financial wellbeing,” he said.

According to a fact sheet from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make plastics more durable. Exposure to phthalates occurs when eating and drinking foods that have contacted products containing phthalates.

Trasande provided some useful advice to limit exposure to the harmful chemical in an interview with CNN. “First, avoid plastics as much as you can. Never put plastic containers in the microwave or dishwasher – where the heat can break down the linings – as they might be absorbed more readily,” he said. “In addition, cooking at home and reducing your use of processed foods can reduce the levels of the chemical exposures you come in contact with.”

Consumers were also alerted to harmful chemicals in everyday items when concerns about the levels of lead in vintage tupperware were raised in 2019.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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