Chemicals in Plastics: Cancer, Diabetes, More

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in plastics pose a serious threat to public health and cost the U.S. an estimated $250 billion in increased health care costs in 2018, according to new research published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society.

Plastics contain many hazardous, endocrine-disrupting chemicals that leach and contaminate humans and the environment.

These chemicals disturb the body’s hormone systems and can cause cancer, diabetes, reproductive disorders, neurological impairments of developing fetuses and children, and death.

Potential options under discussion as part of a Global Plastics Treaty include interventions to reduce EDC exposure to protect public health and the environment, and data on the health costs of EDCs could help move this initiative forward.

The researchers analyzed existing studies on EDCs to identify how many diseases and disabilities were attributed to chemicals in plastics.

The chemicals they studied commonly found in plastics included polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), phthalates, bisphenols, and poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

The researchers updated previously published data on disease burden and cost estimates for these chemicals in the United States to 2018. They combined the data and estimated $250 billion in disease burden from plastic exposure in 2018.

Most of the cost burden was from polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) exposure which is associated with diseases such as cancer.

Sixty-seven billion in health costs was due to phthalate exposure which is linked to preterm birth, reduced sperm count and childhood obesity, and $22 billion was due to PFAS exposure which is associated with kidney failure and gestational diabetes.


Leonardo Trasande, Roopa Krithivasan, Kevin Park, Vladislav Obsekov, Michael Belliveau. Chemicals Used in Plastic Materials: An Estimate of the Attributable Disease Burden and Costs in the United States. Journal of the Endocrine Society, 2024; 8 (2) DOI: 10.1210/jendso/bvad163

The Endocrine Society. (2024, January 11). U.S. health costs related to chemicals in plastics reached $250 billion in 2018. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 16, 2024 from

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