Petrochemicals, Plastics & Health: Will global treaty offer pathway to progress?

April 10, 2024
1:00 pm US Eastern Time

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Plastics chemicals and their impacts on human health are a central issue in the global plastics crisis. An estimated 99% of plastic is made from fossil fuel-derived chemicals (or petrochemicals), which have been associated with increased rates of neurodevelopmental disorders, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and certain cancers. 

A recent review article by Dr. Tracey Woodruff highlights the link between the explosive growth of the petrochemical industry and the rise in various diseases, particularly reproductive cancers in women. The analysis emphasizes that many petrochemicals used in plastics are endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which interfere with the body’s hormonal function and are found in many everyday products. 

Global plastic production is projected to nearly triple by 2050, from 400 million to 1100 million metric tons. With upcoming INC-4 negotiations to develop an international legally binding plastics treaty, it’s crucial that policymakers and the general public understand the health and environmental risks associated with chemical exposure throughout the plastics life cycle. 

A recent state-of-the-science report on plastic chemicals co-authored by Dr. Laura Monclús Anglada for the PlastChem Project synthesizes the current scientific evidence on more than 16,000 chemicals potentially present in plastic materials and products. It identifies the plastic chemicals of most concern and recommends approaches for regulation, transparency, and safer plastics.

In this webinar, CHE-Alaska and CHE hosted Dr. Woodruff and Dr. Monclús for a conversation about chemicals in plastics, their impacts on human health and how the global plastics treaty could help address this urgent public health issue.

Featured Speakers

Laura Monclús Anglada, PhD, MDV, is a researcher with the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute (NGI), and former postdoc at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), where she investigated exposure and effects of plastics and microplastics on marine and terrestrial birds. She completed her PhD one environmental pollutants and effects on birds at the Department of Animal Health and Anatomy at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. She has collaborated with several international research groups, including the framework of the EU COST action European Raptor Biomonitoring Facility - ERBFacility. She is currently co-leader of the PlastChem Project, which aims to address the fragmented understanding of the chemicals in plastics and their impact on health and the environment. She co-authored the Project’s recently released state-of-the-science report, which synthesized evidence about chemicals in plastics to inform an evidence-based policy development for better protecting public health and the environment.

Tracey Woodruff, PhD, MPH, is the Director of and Alison S. Carlson Endowed Professor for the Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment (PRHE) and is a Professor in the UCSF Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences and the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies. She is also the Director of a newly awarded NIEHS Environmental Health Core Center grant, the Environmental Research and Translation for Health (EaRTH) Center at UCSF. She is a recognized expert on environmental pollution exposures and impacts on health, with a focus on pregnancy, infancy and childhood, and her innovations in translating and communicating scientific findings for clinical and policy audiences. She has authored numerous scientific publications and book chapters, and has been quoted widely in the press, including USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle and The New York Times. Before joining UCSF, Dr. Woodruff was a senior scientist and policy advisor for the U.S. EPA’s Office of Policy. She was appointed by the governor of California in 2012 to the Science Advisory Board of the Developmental and Reproductive Toxicant (DART) Identification Committee.


This webinar was co-hosted with the CHE-Alaska Partnership, which is coordinated by Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT). Driven by a core belief in environmental justice, ACAT empowers communities to eliminate exposure to toxics through collaborative research, shared science, education, organizing, and advocacy.