Exposure to chemicals in pesticides, toys, makeup, food packaging and detergents costs the U.S. more than $340 billion annually due to health care costs and lost wages, according to a new analysis.
The chemicals, known as endocrine disruptors, impact how human hormones function and have been linked to a variety of health problems such as impaired brain development, lower IQs, behavior problems, infertility, birth defects, obesity and diabetes.
The estimated economic toll is more than 2 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP).
The findings, researchers say, “document the urgent public threat posed by endocrine disrupting chemicals.”
The study was published Monday in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology journal. Pete Myers—founder of Environmental Health Sciences, publisher of Environmental Health News and The Daily Climate—is a co-author on the study.
The researchers estimated costs by looking at exposures, then projecting 15 medical conditions linked to the chemicals and the associated health costs and lost wages.
The findings are built upon calculations made by the Endocrine Society, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Environment Program. A similar study conducted in Europe found about $217 billion in annual costs due to exposure to these compounds.
The much higher cost in the United States “is due to a major difference in policy and regulation,” said Dr. Leonardo Trasande, an associate professor and researcher at the NYU School of Medicine and senior author of the study.
The U.S. public has greater exposure to flame retardant chemicals, due in part to stringent fire-safety rules. These compounds are added to furniture foam and electronics to slow the spread of flames.
In Europe, pesticides were the main cost driver. Both flame retardants and certain pesticides can impact brain development when unborn babies are exposed.
Trasande noted the U.S. Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 requires consideration of children’s safety before a pesticide is approved for use in farming. No such policy exists in Europe. Conversely, Europe has been much more proactive in tackling a particularly concerning groups of flame retardant chemicals called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).
PBDEs were the worst offenders in the U.S., accounting for nearly two thirds of the estimated health problems. PBDEs were estimated to annually cause about 11 million lost IQ points and 43,000 additional cases of intellectual disability to the tune of $268 billion.
Pesticide exposure—the second most costly chemical group in the U.S.—causes an estimated 1.8 million lost IQ points and another 7,500 intellectual disability cases annually, with an estimated cost of $44.7 billion.
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