In an article published on April 17, 2020, Environmental Health News (EHN) discusses the role chronic diseases in the US linked to exposure to toxic chemicals may be playing in worsening the COVID-19 pandemic. Citing various peer-reviewed scientific studies, the authors explain that chronic conditions and diseases such as obesity, diabetes, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis disrupt the immune system and lead to an increased risk of death due to the virus.

“In the US, these chronic diseases have been steadily increasing over the past 50 years, associated with the dramatic increase in chemical production for use in plastics, construction materials, pesticides, personal care products, furniture, cookware, food packaging, textiles, and many other products that are steadily infiltrating every aspect of human life.” A large number of chemicals in consumer products are either recognized as or suspected to be endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), potentially contributing to the development of many of these chronic diseases. Such chemicals in processed foods and food packaging, the article argues, are exacerbating the problem, also in the case of such a pandemic. “The poor nutrition of processed food along with the endocrine disrupting chemicals in food and packaging such as the chemical bisphenol A (BPA), lead to disruption of glucose (blood sugar) regulation, insulin resistance (the inability of cells to respond to insulin) and cellular dysfunction resulting in inflammation.”

While little can be done in the very short term to improve this situation within the current pandemic, the authors recommend making changes with a longer-term view. “To reduce the increasing burden of chronic diseases in the US, we recommend that Congress reconstruct our system for regulating the toxic environmental chemicals to which, according to the CDC ([US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]), the majority of people in the US are being consistently exposed.” More than an improvement to general health and well-being, such a shift would also prepare society for public health emergencies in the future. “The consequence of Congress failing to do this is that we will be in a worse position with regard to the chronic disease burden of the US, with many more people likely to die when the next pandemic occurs.”

More information related to the COVID-19 pandemic and packaging is available on the Food Packaging Forum’s resources page.

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Frederick vom Saal and Aly Cohen (April 17, 2020). “How toxic chemicals contribute to COVID-19 deaths: Frederick vom Saal, Aly Cohen.” Environmental Health News

Leonardo Trasande and Akhgar Ghassabian (April 29, 2020). “The toxic chemicals in our homes could increase Covid-19 threat.” The Guardian

Sharon Lerner (June 26, 2020). “Scientists Pin Blame for Some Coronavirus Deaths on Air Pollution, PFAS, and Other Chemicals.” The Intercept