Dr. Aly Cohen Contributes to Environmental Health News Article on How Toxic Chemicals Contribute to COVID-19 Deaths

Members of the Washington Air and Army National Guard are supporting food banks around the state during the COVID-19 pandemic response. (U.S. National Guard photo by Joseph Siemandel)

How toxic chemicals contribute to COVID-19 deaths: Frederick vom Saal, Aly Cohen

Chronic diseases, many linked to chemical exposures, are worsening the pandemic sweeping the U.S.


By Frederick vom Saal and Aly Cohen


Most people living in the U.S. are suffering from one or more chronic diseases that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified as putting people at increased risk of dying from COVID-19.

These chronic diseases include obesity, diabetes, liver, kidney and cardiovascular disease (together called metabolic disease), respiratory diseases including asthma, allergy, emphysema, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), as well as autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, and lupus.

­­­All of these diseases involve disruption of normal immune system function, resulting in inflammation. Chronic inflammation primes the body to react with a heightened response to immune system insults, such as COVID-19 infection.

In the U.S., 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.

Researchers are finding that a disturbing number of these chemicals are categorized as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that can interfere with the normal functioning of hormones involved in cell communication, including regulating immune responses and inflammation. We are exposed to such chemicals through a myriad of common consumer products, emissions into outdoor and indoor air, in drinking water, and in processed food and food packaging.

Despite clear evidence that chronic diseases have been steadily increasing in the U.S. and that endocrine disrupting chemicals impact these disease trends, regulatory agencies—including the Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency—have refused to acknowledge the dangers posed by continuous exposure of the U.S. population to a large number of these chemicals.