by Greg Maguire, Ph.D.
New study from NYU quantifies health care spending and lost wages caused by low-level exposures to synthetic endocrine disruptor chemicals
Long-term, low-level exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals costs the U.S. about $340 billion in annual health care spending and lost wages, according to a study of epidemiological data (Attina et al, 2016).
These chemicals, widely found in consumer products and their packaging, and associated with pharmaceutical and agricultural chemical use, can interfere with hormone function and contribute to the development of a variety of diseases and health problems, including cancer (Soto and Sonnenschein, 2010).
Surprisingly, the estimated costs of these chemicals is roughly 2.3% of the U.S. gross domestic product. By comparison, earlier this year the NYU researchers estimated that the same cost for the European Union is $217 billion, or about 1.3% of its gross domestic product (Trasande et al, 2016).
The authors of the study are experts in endocrine disruptor research. They attribute the difference in GDP share between the USA and Europe to differences in health and safety policies as well as in chemical industry regulations. The authors argue that their findings indicate the U.S. should adopt more stringent requirements for chemical testing, even going beyond those in the recently revised Toxic Substances Control Act.
The new study reviewed blood sample and urine analyses to document the presence of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in participants in the U.S. National Health & Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), an annual survey that gathers information about disease prevalence and risk factors for major diseases. Computer models were then used to project disease totals based on those chemical exposures and to calculate the estimated health costs and lost income for each disease.
The research team focused on chemicals including polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), organophosphates, phthalates, and bisphenol A, chemicals commonly used in making plastic bottles, metal cans, detergents, flame retardants, toys, cosmetics, and pesticides. The researchers say their analysis helps confirm that routine endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure increases rates of neurological and behavioral disorders, such as autism and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, leading to diminished IQs. Further, the exposure to endocrine disruptors also increases rates of male infertility, birth defects, obesity, diabetes, and some cancers.
For example, the analysis shows that yearly exposure to PBDE flame retardants and organophosphate pesticides accounts for about two-thirds of the U.S. total disease burden associated with endocrine disruptors, mostly from neurological damage caused in the unborn. Specifically, annual PBDE exposure accounts for 43,000 cases of “intellectual disability” and 11 million lost IQ points in children, with an associated disease burden of some $266 billion. Meanwhile, pesticide exposure is estimated to cause 7,500 disability cases each year and 1.8 million lost IQ points, with a total health cost of $44.7 billion.
The analyses suggests that stronger regulatory oversight of endocrine-disrupting chemicals is needed, and that this oversight should include not only safety tests on the chemicals’ use in the manufacture of commercial products before the chemicals receive government approval, but also studies of the chemical’s health impact over time once they are used in consumer products.
Many academic chemists believe it is vital that endocrine disruption enter the education of chemists as a top priority and that we deal with the challenges in a timely manner. While much progress has been made in laying the foundation for strategically coping with endocrine disruption, this new report provides information to help understand why that is important.
Attina TM et al (2016) Exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the USA: a population-based disease burden and cost analysis. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. http://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/landia/PIIS2213-8587(16)30275-3.pdf
Soto AM, Sonnenschein C (2010) Environmental causes of cancer: endocrine disruptors as carcinogens. Nature Reviews Endocrinology 6, 363-370 doi:10.1038/nrendo.2010.87
Trasande L et al (2016) Burden of disease and costs of exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals in the European Union: an updated analysis. Andrology, 4: 565–572. doi:10.1111/andr.12178