According to new research, “hormone-disrupting chemicals” linked to plastic were potentially responsible for 10% of premature births in the United States in 2018. How families can avoid the danger

Regular exposure to chemicals used in the production of plastic food containers and many cosmetics may have fueled about 56,600 — or 10% — of premature births in the United States in 2018, according to new research released Tuesday.

It has been known for decades that phthalates, a group of chemicals that make plastic more durable, are endocrine disruptors, chemicals that block, mimic or interfere with the body’s hormones. But a new study conducted by researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine in New York City, published on The Lancet Planetary Health, found that exposure to such chemicals is also linked to an increased risk of lower birth weight and gestational age – and death – among newborns, as well as lower school performance, diabetes and heart disease during childhood and beyond.

Phthalates can be found in “a broad swath” of consumer products, from personal care to food packaging, says Dr. Leonardo Trasande, professor of pediatrics and population health at NYL Langone Health Fortune.

“We’ve become accustomed to phthalates added to food packaging and the proverbial cucumber wrapped in plastic wrap, which I don’t understand,” he says.

Trasande and her team analyzed data from 5,000 pregnant women who participated in the Environmental Influences on Childhood Health Outcomes (ECHO) program, conducted by the National Institutes of Health. They measured levels of 20 different metabolites – chemicals produced during digestion and other bodily processes – in urine samples three times during each woman’s pregnancy, and later looked for associations with preterm birth and other outcomes in the offspring.

In addition to concluding that at least 56,600 premature births in the United States in 2018 were likely linked, at least in part, to phthalate exposure, they also calculated the economic cost of those births: $1.6 million for all potentially premature babies born. due to phthalates in 2018. and $8.1 billion over the lifetime of those children combined.

Although numerous studies have shown a link between phthalates and preterm birth, those studies examined women’s urine samples only once during pregnancy. Trasande says his team is the first to use a diverse and representative study population and measure metabolites multiple times during each pregnancy.

How to reduce your family’s exposure to phthalates

“Our findings reveal the enormous medical and financial burden of premature births that we believe are linked to phthalates, adding to the vast body of evidence that these chemicals pose a serious danger to human health,” says Trasande. “There is a clear opportunity to reduce these risks by using safer plastic materials or reducing plastic use altogether when possible.”

There’s a general feeling that reducing the plastic footprint is a “crisp thing to do”, he says. But that’s not the case: it’s a question of health and safety.

Pregnant women and anyone else who is concerned about their daily exposure to phthalates can do a few things to reduce their risk, according to Trasande, including:

  • Use stainless steel and glass for food storage
  • Do not cook in the microwave or wash plastic dishes
  • Avoid plastic marked with recycling numbers 3, 6 and 7

“We all live on a planet based on the idea that plastic is the future,” he said. “Frankly, plastic is the past.”

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