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

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism

Abstract Context Chemicals used in plastics have been described to contribute to disease and disability, but attributable fractions have not been quantified to assess specific contributions. Without this information, interventions proposed as part of the Global Plastics Treaty cannot be evaluated for potential benefits. Objective To accurately inform the tradeoffs involved in the ongoing reliance on plastic production as a source of economic productivity in the United States, we calculated the attributable disease burden and cost due to chemicals used in plastic materials in 2018. Methods We first analyzed the existing literature to identify plastic-related fractions (PRF) of disease and disability for specific polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDE), phthalates, bisphenols, and polyfluoroalkyl substances and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). We then updated previously published disease burden and cost estimates for these chemicals in the United States to 2018. By uniting these data, we computed estimates of attributable disease burden and costs due to plastics in the United States. Results We identified PRFs of 97.5% for bisphenol A (96.25-98.75% for sensitivity analysis), 98% (96%-99%) for di-2-ethylhexylphthalate, 100% (71%-100%) for butyl phthalates and benzyl phthalates, 98% (97%-99%) for PBDE-47, and 93% (16%-96%) for PFAS. In total, we estimate $249 billion (sensitivity analysis: $226 billion-$289 billion) in plastic-attributable disease burden in 2018. The majority of these costs arose as a result of PBDE exposure, though $66.7 billion ($64.7 billion-67.3 billion) was due to phthalate exposure and $22.4 billion was due to PFAS exposure (sensitivity analysis: $3.85-$60.1 billion). Conclusion Plastics contribute substantially to disease and associated social costs in the United States, accounting for 1.22% of the gross domestic product. The costs of plastic pollution will continue to accumulate as long as exposures continue at current levels. Actions through the Global Plastics Treaty and other policy initiatives will reduce these costs in proportion to the actual reductions in chemical exposures achieved.

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