Exposure to forever chemicals costs US billions in health costs
Daily exposure to a class of chemicals used in the production of many household items may lead to cancer, thyroid disease, and childhood obesity, a new study shows. The resulting economic burden is estimated to cost Americans a minimum of $5.5 billion and as much as $63 billion over the lifetime of the current population.
The new work revolves around per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a group of over 4,700 humanmade chemicals that experts have detected for decades in the blood of millions of people. The chemicals are used, for example, in the production of water- and oil-resistant clothing, electronics, and nonstick cookware, and people are thought to ingest them as food comes into contact with packaging. The substances are believed to disrupt the function of hormones, signaling compounds that influence many bodily processes.
Led by researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, the new study in roughly 5,000 Americans identified 13 medical conditions that may result from PFAS exposure, such as infertility, diabetes, and endometriosis, a painful disorder of the uterus. Together, the diseases generate medical bills and reduce worker productivity across a lifetime to create the costs measured by the study, say the study authors.
“Our findings add to the substantial and still-mounting body of evidence suggesting that exposure to PFAS is harming our health and undermining the economy,” says study co-author Linda Kahn, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and Population Health at NYU Langone Health.
Previous investigations have quantified the medical burden and financial costs of low birth weight due to PFAS exposure. However, the new study, publishing online July 26 in the journal Exposure and Health, incorporates a much broader range of health consequences across the lifespan, says Kahn.
For the investigation, the researchers determined how many Americans were likely exposed to PFAS chemicals in 2018 using blood samples obtained from adults and children who participated in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Next, the study team analyzed data from dozens of studies in the past decade that explored diseases connected to the substances.
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