Print Friendly and PDF
Widely used PVC plastic chemical spurs obesity, prediabetes: Study
Wil C. Fry/flickr

Widely used PVC plastic chemical spurs obesity, prediabetes: Study

Little is known about the compound—but researchers say exposure is likely widespread and it could be making us fat and susceptible to diabetes

Mice exposed in the womb to a chemical used in PVC plastic, door and window frames, blinds, water pipes, and medical devices were more likely to suffer from prediabetes and obesity, according to a study released this week.


The chemical also increased fat accumulation in human stem cells.

The research suggests that the widely used chemical— organotin dibutyltin (DBT)—could be spurring obesity and diabetes and scientists say we should monitor people's exposure since we know so little about the compound.

"We don't really know how exposed we are [to DBT]," lead author of the new study, Raquel Chamorro-García told EHN. García is a postdoctoral researcher at University of California Irvine's Department of Developmental and Cell Biology.

"But it's in so many materials in our houses and we believe most people are exposed and the chemical could be impacting our current diabetes problem," she added.

There have been dramatic increases in both obesity and diabetes rates over the past few decades. About 38 percent of adults in the US—and about 17 percent of children—are now considered obese. More than 30 million people in the US now suffer from diabetes—if you include prediabetes that number jumps to more than 100 million people.

Related: Why are we so fat despite our best efforts?

And, while poor diets and not enough physical activity remain the leading causes, scientists increasingly say this problem goes beyond these obvious culprits. The new study —published this week in Environmental Health Perspectives—is the latest evidence that chemicals in our environment may contribute to these problems—by activating certain receptors, triggering oxidative stress or promoting tissue dysfunction.

Researchers have previously linked certain flame retardant chemicals, BPA, some pesticides, PCBs, and tributyltin (another chemical used in PVC piping) to obesity. DBT, which was tested in the new study, is formed when tributyltin degrades, and it also used on its own in manufacturing.

Scientists at the University of California, Irvine exposed pregnant female mice to DBT. The exposure led to more fat and decreased glucose tolerance in male mice. It's not clear why the link was so profound in male mice but "males and females are metabolically different, we speculate that differences in fat storage might become evident at older ages in females," the authors wrote.

They also examined what effect the chemical had on human stem cells and found increased fat accumulation in exposed cells.

While scientists haven't tested humans for DBT, previous studies found the chemical in house dust and seafood. In addition, a 2009 study estimated humans are exposed to DBT via leaching from PVC water pipes as well.

"The concentrations we used in this study are in the realm of what we'd expect people to be exposed to," García said.

Related Articles Around the Web
Become a donor
Today's top news

EU’s new climate change plan will cause biodiversity loss and deforestation: Analysis

In a plan full of sustainable efforts, the incentivizing of biomass burning has climate experts concerned.

Op-ed: It’s time to re-think the United Nations’ COP climate negotiations

Instead of focusing on negotiations, let the main event be information sharing, financing and partnerships that produce faster technological change.

Evidence of PFAS in sanitary and incontinence pads

The findings come on the heels of other testing that found the forever chemicals in some popular tampons.

From our newsroom

LISTEN: Beau Taylor Morton on the power of community organizing

“People can see you engaged and wanting to begin the work, not only as a researcher, but you’re invested in the community.”

Op-ed: What the media gets wrong about the new world population numbers

The last time that we lived within the productivity limits of our planet was about 50 years ago — that is a problem.

Pennsylvania’s first proposed hazardous waste landfill would be near homes and schools

Residents can voice their opinions at an upcoming public hearing or in public comments.

Where did the PFAS in your blood come from? These computer models offer clues

New research could help pinpoint “forever chemicals” exposure — giving communities a roadmap for cleanup and individuals direction on what to avoid.

Making an impact with environmental health: Yanelli Nunez, PhD.

Engaging in ways to make scientific work more impactful