In an article published this week online in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology (one in a group of journals meant to put science in context for the medical community and society at large), a team of researchers from across the US and Europe outline the financial expense of health issues linked to incidental chemical exposure.
Of course only a fraction of that exposure comes from personal care and cosmetic products and packages. But whenever the industry—one focused on benefiting and beautifying—is linked to issues of ill health, it’s news.
The article, titled, “Exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the USA: a population-based disease burden and cost analysis,” “adds to the growing evidence on the tremendous economic as well as human health costs of endocrine-disrupting chemicals,” explains lead investigator Leonardo Trasande, an epidemiologist and professor at NYU Langone Medical Center.
The total annual cost (an estimate “made based on population and costs in the USA in 2010,” according to the article abstract) of contact with endocrine-disrupting chemicals is $340bn.
Separating those costs out by condition, the team reports that neurological conditions account for $282bn, endometriosis and fibroids $43bn, premature death costs $8bn, obesity and diabetes $5bn, and men’s reproductive conditions $2bn.
Where’s the risk?
Data from the research also shows that the majority of risk comes from exposure to flame retardants. $240bn of the total $340bn in health and lost-wage expenses comes from contact with endocrine-disrupting chemicals used as flame retardants.
Exposure to chemicals used as pesticides amounts to $42bn. And somewhere in the remaining $58bn are endocrine-disrupting chemicals used in personal care and beauty product formulations and packaging.
But that number ($58bn) isn’t just for the cosmetics industry. $56bn of it is attributed to chemicals in bottles and cans across all sectors. And the other $2bn is attributed to “other mixes of chemicals.”
What to do?
The researchers do make some recommendations. “Based on our analyses, stronger regulatory oversight of endocrine-disrupting chemicals is needed, not just in Europe, but in the U.S.,” Trasande says is a NYU press item about the article.
He believes that “this oversight should include not only safety tests on the chemicals' use in the manufacture of commercial products before the chemicals receive government approval, but also studies of their health impact over time once they are used in consumer products.”
Curiously, given the data above, the suggestions for consumers focus on not microwaving or dishwashing plastic food containers and “switching to all natural or fragrance-free cosmetics.”