DExposure to a class of chemicals used in the production of many household products may lead to cancer, thyroid disease and childhood obesity, a new study suggests. The resulting economic burden is estimated to cost Americans at least $5.5 billion and up to $63 billion over the lifetime of the current population.
The new work centers around more than 4,700 artificial chemicals (PFAS) and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that experts have detected in the blood of millions of people over decades. The chemicals are used in the production of, for example, water- and oil-resistant clothing, electronics and non-stick cookware, and when food comes into contact with packaging, people are thought to ingest them. The substances are believed to disrupt hormone function and signal compounds that influence many bodily processes.
A new study of nearly 5,000 Americans, led by researchers at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, identified 13 medical conditions that may be caused by PFAS exposure, such as infertility, diabetes and the painful uterine disease endometriosis. According to the study’s authors, the diseases together generate medical bills and reduce the productivity of workers over a lifetime to create costs measured by the study.
“Our findings add to the substantial and still growing body of evidence that PFAS exposure is harming our health and harming our economy,” said one of the study’s authors, Linda G. Kahn, PhD, MPH, Associate Professor of Pediatrics. and Population Health at NYU Langone Health.
Previous studies have quantified the medical burden and financial costs of low birth weight babies due to PFAS exposure. However, a new study published online July 26 in the journal Exposure and health, has a wide range of lifelong health consequences, says Dr. Blood.
For the study, researchers used blood samples from adults and children who participated in the 2018 US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to determine how many Americans may be exposed to PFAS chemicals. Next, the research team analyzed data from dozens of studies over the past decade examining substance-related disorders.
The research team used models from previous studies to estimate the national economic cost of medical bills and worker productivity resulting from the top five medical conditions most strongly associated with PFAS exposure. These include low birth weight, childhood obesity, kidney cancer, testicular cancer and hypothyroidism.
The study found that childhood obesity was the largest contributor to the total economic cost of PFAS exposure, at an estimated $2.7 billion. Hypothyroidism in women, a condition in which the thyroid gland does not produce enough hormone into the bloodstream, was the next largest contributor at $1.26 billion.
The study researchers also expanded the scope of the economic evaluations to include eight other conditions previously associated with PFAS exposure, including endometriosis, obesity in adults, and pneumonia in children. Including such diseases, the total cost reached 63 billion dollars.
“Our results strongly support the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent decision to lower safe levels of these substances in water,” said study senior author Leonardo Trasande, MD, MPP. “In our estimation, the cost of eliminating the pollution alternative and replacing this class of chemicals with safer ones is ultimately justified given the economic and medical risks of their persistence in the environment.”
Dr. Trasand, Jim G. Hendrick, MD, professor of pediatrics and professor of population health at NYU Langone, cautions that despite extensive research on the health risks of PFAS, few studies have examined the effects of this exposure. over time.
The next research team plans to examine the long-term risks of PFAS, adds Dr. Trasand, who also serves as director of New York University’s Langone Center for Environmental Hazards Research. In addition, the study authors plan to assess the economic burden of other endocrine-disrupting pollutants, such as bisphenols—used in many plastics and can coatings, fire retardants, and pesticides.
Research funding was provided by National Institutes of Environmental Sciences P30ES000260, P2CES033423, and K99/R00ES030403.
Dr. Trasand has received financial support from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Audible, Paidos, and Kobunsha, as well as travel support from the Endocrine Society, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Environment Program, the Japanese Ministry of Environment and Health, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. He also serves on scientific advisory boards for Beautycounter, ISGlobal, and Footprint. The terms and conditions of these events are governed by NYU Langone Health policies.
In addition, Dr. Kahn and Dr. Trasande, Vladislav Obsekov, MD, was first author of the study at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.