Chemicals in Plastics Added $250 Billion to U.S. Health Care Costs in One Year

Health problems linked with harmful plastic chemicals cost the U.S. health care system $250 billion in increased costs in the year 2018 alone, according to a study published today. This cost is equal to 1.22% of the nation’s annual gross domestic product (GDP).

The United States has historically considered plastics and their chemical ingredients as a point of economic productivity. Yet this new study reveals that the health care costs of treating illnesses that trace back to plastic chemicals are extremely steep—and experts say plastic’s health costs will only increase if industries are permitted to continue pumping out plastics into the world.

Our study drives home the need to address chemicals used in plastic materials as part of the Global Plastics Treaty. Actions through the Global Plastics Treaty and other policy initiatives will reduce these costs in proportion to the actual reductions in chemical exposures achieved.

— Leonardo Trasande, M.D., M.P.P., of NYU Grossman School of Medicine and NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service in New York, N.Y., and Plastic Pollution Coalition Scientific Advisor

Plastics contain more than 16,000 chemicals, including many that interrupt how our bodies’ hormone (endocrine) systems work. These chemicals can cause serious health problems including cancer, diabetes, reproductive disorders, neurological impairments of developing fetuses and children, and even death. Some of the most harmful plastic chemicals include bisphenols, phthalates, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), and poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Babies, children, and pregnant people are especially vulnerable to these chemicals.

Plastics pollute throughout their endless, toxic existence. The plastics and petrochemical industries also heavily pollute the air, soils, and waters during fossil fuel extraction and processing, plastics production, as well as transportation and “disposal” of plastic in landfills, incinerators, and the environment. Poor, rural, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities have been disproportionately polluted by these industries, driving major social injustices and public health crises.

Plastic pollution impacts everything, and hurts our health and the health of our planet. As evidence of plastic pollution’s harmful effects grows, it’s clear plastic’s costs far outweigh any perceived economic benefits. We don’t have time to continue with business as usual, it’s time to shift the system.

— Dianna Cohen, CEO and Co-Founder, Plastic Pollution Coalition

New Documentary on Plastics + Health to Debut at SXSW

Image credit: @PlasticPeopleDoc

Plastic People, a new film that will debut at this year’s SXSW Film & TV Festival this March in Austin, Texas, sheds important light on the health consequences and costs of plastics. The UN Plastics Treaty, now under negotiation, is an opportunity to more effectively regulate the plastics and petrochemical industries. An effective Plastics Treaty should address the impacts of plastic pollution across its lifecycle, and bind industries to phasing out toxic plastics and chemicals.

How to Protect Yourself

Loose fruit and vegetables in market, no plastic wrappers.

Scientists have been increasingly finding plastic particles and chemicals in our environment, food, water, and our bodies. As evidence of plastic’s harmful effects on human health grows, so does the urgency of taking action to end production of toxic plastics and their chemical additives.

The news of microplastic and nanoplastic particles getting into our bodies from food, water and other beverages, and the air when we breathe, is concerning. Despite plastic’s ubiquity in our lives, there are ways you can help reduce your exposure. Learn tangible, common sense ways to reduce the amount of plastic you use in your daily life during our January 18 webinar: Plastic-Free Resolutions: Protecting Your Health in 2024. Sign up.

Avoid bottled water and other beverages sold in plastic, which can release hundreds of thousands of plastic particles into your body. Instead consider installing a point-of-use water filter on your tap that can catch microplastics and many of the chemicals commonly used in plastics. When choosing foods, opt for those that are the least processed, and are either unpackaged or are stored in materials other than plastic, such as untreated paper or banana leaves.

Take Action

We need urgent action to end plastic pollution on a global scale. We must convince government leaders to take a strong stance and support a bold, binding global plastics treaty that addresses the full life cycle of plastics. You can help by signing petitions to the U.S. Government and world leaders, and by amplifying the voices of people on the frontlines of the crisis.


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