‘Safer’ chemical replacements in plastic aren’t safe after all, study finds
Plastic is one of the most used materials around the world for storing food, cosmetics, toiletries among other things across the globe. A particular chemical di-2-ethylhexylphlatate, or DEHP, was used previously to strengthen the plastic; however the chemical was found to be dangerous for health because of which the plastic manufacturing industry started using di-isononyl phthalate (DINP) and di-isodecyl phthalate (DIDP) as safer replacements; but now a new research has established that even these two compounds aren’t safe and have been linked to an increase in risk of high blood pressure and diabetes in children and adolescents.
Researchers at NYU Langone have shown through a new research that environmental chemicals might be independent contributors to insulin resistance, elevated blood pressure and other metabolic disorders in children and adolescents..
Study lead investigator Leonardo Trasande, MD, an associate professor of pediatrics, environmental medicine, and population health at NYU Langone says that their tests are the first to examine potential health risks from DEHP replacements.
Researchers have established in a recent study published in journal Hypertension that there is a ‘significant association’ between high blood pressure and the presence of DINP and DIDP levels in study subjects. Specifically, they say, for every tenfold increase in the amount of phthalates consumed, there was a 1.1 millimeters of mercury increase in blood pressure.
In their previous research, the same investigators had found an association between DINP and DIDP concentrations and increased insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes. One in three adolescents with the highest DINP levels had the highest insulin resistance, while for those with the lowest concentrations of the chemicals, only one in four had insulin resistance.
DEHP, the original chemical used as a plasticizer, was banned in 2004 in Europe after researchers elsewhere found a link between exposure to the plasticizer and detrimental effects on human health. In the United States, manufacturers voluntarily began to replace DEHP with DINP and DIDP over the last decade.
Trasande’s own research in 2013 confirmed the link between DEHP exposure and hypertension in Americans.
For the new study research, the NYU Langone team reviewed blood sample and urine analyses from participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Since 1999, NHANES has gathered information about the prevalence and risk factors of major diseases by annually surveying 5,000 volunteers. As part of the NYU Langone investigation, blood samples of a diverse group of 356 children and adolescents ages 12 to 19 were measured and evaluated for phthalates and glucose based on their urinary levels of the substances.
Blood and urine samples were collected once between 2008 and 2012, and the study volunteers’ blood pressure was similarly measured. Diet, physical activity, gender, race, ethnicity, income, and other factors independently associated with insulin resistance and hypertension were also factored into the researchers’ analysis.
“Alternatives to DIDP and DINP include wax paper and aluminum wrap; indeed, a dietary intervention that introduced fresh foods that were not canned or packaged in plastic reduced phthalate metabolites substantially,” says Trasande. “Our study adds further concern for the need to test chemicals for toxicity prior to their broad and widespread use, which is not required under current federal law, the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act,” he says.
Trasande says there are “safe and simple” steps families can take to limit exposure to phthalates. These include not microwaving food in plastic containers or covered by plastic wrap, and washing plastic food containers by hand instead of putting them in the dishwasher, where harsh chemicals can lead to increased leaching of plasticizers into food. He says people can also avoid using plastic containers labeled on the bottom with the numbers 3, 6, or 7 inside the recycle symbol, in which chemicals such as phthalates are used.
Trasande says his team now plans to study the long-term effects of exposure to these chemicals, in particular during pregnancy and early childhood, which might reveal different or more persistent effects on health.