The man-made chemicals are found in hundreds of consumer products, including food-storage containers, shampoo, makeup, perfume, and children’s toys.
For decades, scientists have known that phthalates can interfere with important hormone function.
Even the smallest hormonal disruptions can cause significant effects — including developmental and reproductive issues, as well as problems with the brain and immune system — the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences said.
“These chemicals have a rap sheet,» Leonardo Trasande, the lead author and director of NYU Langone’s Center for the Investigation of Environmental Hazards, told CNN. «And the fact of the matter is that when you look at the entire body of evidence, it provides a haunting pattern of concern.»
Trasande and colleagues at NYU Grossman School of Medicine analyzed data from more than 5,000 adults between the ages of 55 and 64. They found that those with the highest level of phthalates in their urine were more likely to die earlier than expected, especially of heart-related causes.
The study calculated that between 91,000 to 107,000 American adults a year suffer premature deaths linked to these chemicals. The authors put a price tag on those early deaths: an estimated $40 billion to $47 billion each year in lost economic productivity.
‘Everywhere chemicals’ can pose a risk if eaten or inhaled
Phthalates are typically added to products to make them longer-lasting. Various plastic tubing and some children’s toys might contain the chemicals so they’re harder to break, and toiletries and cosmetics commonly include phthalates to maintain fragrance.
The chemical class is so common that phthalates are nicknamed «everywhere chemicals.» The chemicals pose a threat if inhaled or ingested, so children are at an especially high risk of exposure as they tend to put their hands in their mouths.
In an email to Insider, Trasande shared a list of tips for keeping phthalates out of your home:
Use unscented lotions and laundry detergents.
Use cleaning supplies without scents.
Use glass, stainless steel, ceramic, or wood to hold and store foods.
Buy fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables instead of canned and processed versions.
Avoid air fresheners and all plastics labeled as No. 3, No. 6, and No. 7.
Avoid microwaving and machine dishwashing plastics.
Industry leaders pushed back
The American Chemistry Council, which represents the US chemical, plastics, and chlorine industries, sent CNN a statement calling the study «demonstrably inaccurate» because it lumped all phthalates into a single group rather than considering the differences in toxicity.
But Trasande told Insider that the ACC’s response was «predictably similar to those used by the tobacco industry when studies showed evidence of that harm,» and that the council provided no evidence to contradict the study’s findings.