(NaturalNews) A new study suggests that chemicals known as perfluorinated chemicals, which are pervasive in food packaging, pesticides, clothing, upholstery, carpets and personal care products, may delay pregnancy. Other studies and evidence have indicated that the chemicals are responsible for far greater harm than just delayed pregnancy.
"These widespread chemicals apparently lower the fertility in couples trying to get pregnant," said lead researcher Dr. Jorn Olsen, chairman of the Department of Epidemiology at UCLA`s School of Public Health who headed the study. The report is published in the Jan. 29 online edition of Human Reproduction. And it follows on the heels of a report linking another common plastic chemical, bisphenol A (BPA), to developmental problems in fetuses and infants.
For Olsen`s study, his team collected data on 1,240 women who participated in the Danish National Birth Cohort. Danish women in the study who had high levels of perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) took longer to get pregnant.
The researchers took blood samples from the women and interviewed them on how long it took them to become pregnant. The researchers found that blood levels of PFOS ranged from 6.4 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) to 106.7 ng/ml. For PFOA, levels ranged from 1 ng/ml to 41.5 ng/ml. Olsen`s group then divided the women into four groups, depending on how much of the chemicals were in their blood.
Women in the three groups with the highest levels of PFOS took from 70 percent to 134 percent longer to get pregnant than women with the lowest PFOS levels, the team reported. It took women with the highest PFOA levels 60 percent to 154 percent longer to get pregnant compared with women with the lowest levels of this chemical. Why these chemicals would delay pregnancy isn`t known, Olsen said, but they may affect hormones involved in reproduction.
Recent animal studies have found these chemicals may have a variety of toxic effects on the liver, immune system and developmental and reproductive organs, he noted. In addition, previous studies by the same researchers found that PFOA may affect the growth of fetuses and two other studies linked PFOA and PFOS to impaired fetal growth.
After decades of evidence of harm from these chemicals, in 2006 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finally had commitments from eight manufacturers of PFOA to voluntarily reduce emissions and product content of PFOA and related chemicals in the United States and overseas by 95 percent by 2010, and to work toward eliminating emissions and product content of these chemicals by 2015. This action was brought on because the chemical was associated with "systemic and developmental toxicity."
Sources of PFOA
Food, drinking water, outdoor air, indoor air, dust, and food packagings are all implicated as sources of PFOA to people. Contaminated food and drinking water are thought to be the largest contributors, while consumer products such as impregnation sprays (textile treatments), treated carpets, and coated food contact materials are considered as minor.
PFOA is also formed as an unintended byproduct in the production of fluorotelomers and is present in finished goods treated with fluorotelomers, including those intended for food contact. Also, fluorotelomers can be metabolized into PFOA. In an U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) study, fluorotelomer-based paper coatings (which can be applied to food contact paper in the concentration range of 0.4%) were found to contain 88,000-160,000 ppb PFOA, while microwave popcorn bags contained 6-290 ppb PFOA. Toxicologists estimate that microwave popcorn could account for about 20% of the PFOA levels measured in an individual consuming 10 bags a year if 1% of the fluorotelomers are metabolized to PFOA. Fluorotelomer-based paper coatings are used in direct food contact because of their lipophobicity; the coatings give papers resistance to oil soaking in from fatty foods. Fluorotelomer coatings are used in fast food wrappers, candy wrappers, and pizza box liners. PAPS, a type of paper fluorotelomer coating, and PFOA precursor, is also used in food contact papers.
From Sludge to Food
PFOA can form as a breakdown product from a variety of precursor molecules. PFOA precursors can be transformed to PFOA by metabolism, biodegradation, or atmospheric processes. The OECD identified 615 chemicals that potentially break down to form PFCA. However, not all of these chemicals have the potential to break down to form PFOA. A majority of waste water treatment plants (WWTPs) that have been tested output more PFOA than is input, and this increased output has been attributed to the biodegradation of fluorotelomer alcohols.
PFOA and PFOS were detected in "very high" (low parts per million) levels in agricultural fields for grazing beef cattle around Decatur, AL. The approximately 5000 acres of land were fertilized with "treated municipal sewage sludge, or biosolids." PFOA was also detected in the blood of the cattle. The water treatment plant received process wastewater from a nearby perfluorochemical manufacturing plant. 3M says they managed their own wastes, but Daikin America "discharged process wastewater to the municipal waste treatment plant." If traced to meat, it would be the first time perfluorochemicals were traced from sludge to food.
On February 15, 2005, the USEPA`s Science Advisory Board (SAB) voted to recommended that PFOA should be considered a "likely human carcinogen."
On May 26, 2006, the USEPA`s SAB addressed a letter to Stephen L. Johnson. Three-quarters of advisers thought the stronger "likely to be carcinogenic" descriptor was warranted, in opposition to the USEPA`s own PFOA hazard descriptor of "suggestive evidence of carcinogenicity, but not sufficient to assess human carcinogenic potential."
Evidence of Harm versus Industry Denial and Coverup
In what has been a consistent pattern of denial the American Council on Science and Health, an organization which is widely perceived to be an industry mouthpiece and which admits to receiving industry funding but refuses to disclose sources and amounts, labeled the idea that "PFOA Causes Low Birth Weight Babies" as #4 on their Top Ten Unfounded Health Scares of 2007, arguing that "PFOA affecting birth weight by four ounces does not imply any real harm to the babies – they were all of normal weight."
Although the chemical industry would have us believe that any health issues will soon become moot because these chemicals are being phased out in the United States due to their toxic effects, they remain in the environment and in the body for decades, and have been linked to developmental and numerous other problems. In 2003-2004 99.7% of Americans had detectable PFOA in their blood serum. However, concentrations of PFOA in US blood serum have declined by 25% in recent years. Despite a decrease in PFOA, the related chemical PFNA, a longer chained perfluorinated carboxylic acid, is increasing in the blood of US consumers.
Facial birth defects, an effect observed in rat offspring, occurred with the children of two out of seven female DuPont employees from the Washington Works facility from 1979-1981; however, DuPont does not accept any responsibility from the toxicity of PFOA. With other highly exposed populations, a 2000 3M epidemiology study recorded statistically significant increases in cholesterol, triglyceride, and triiodothyronine levels and a statistically significant decrease in HDL with increasing levels of PFOA. A 3M funded study found workers who were highly exposed to PFOA had twice the odds of dying from prostate cancer and stroke when compared to other workers at the same plant.
In response, 3M`s spokesman said, "nothing in this study changes our conclusion that there are no adverse health effects from PFOA."
A DuPont report on the rate of occurrence of carcinoid tumors at their Washington, WV plant gave "preliminary evidence for a cancer cluster." DuPont responded by stating that they did not have any reason to believe the increase from the Washington Works plant was due to any specific chemical. In a May 2008 preliminary report released by West Virginia University (WVU), PFOA was linked to liver, thyroid, immune system, and cholesterol changes considered harmful in the population around DuPont`s Washington, WV plant. In a quick response to the release of the WVU report, DuPont`s spokesman highlighted the preliminary nature and the legal issue of the industry dominated C8 Science Panel being the only court appointed authority on study results. The C8 Science Panel also criticized the WVU release, labeling the graphs as "simple" that related PFOA to several blood tests because they did not represent a thorough data analysis. In October 2008, when the C8 Science Panel released findings, PFOA was only linked to high levels of cholesterol.
Despite DuPont asserting that "cookware coated with DuPont Teflon non-stick coatings does not contain PFOA," residual PFOA was also detected in finished PTFE products including PTFE/Teflon cookware. Additionally, a New York State Department of Health study detected PFOA in the gas phase coming from new nonstick cookware and microwave popcorn bags in research funded by a 2005-2006 $17,700 grant from the Consumers Union.
In the face of all the evidence of PFOA harm to humans, DuPont`s position continues to be that the data does not prove PFOA causes health effects.
On December 13, 2005, DuPont announced a settlement with the EPA in which DuPont will pay $10.25 million in fines and an additional $6.25 million for two supplemental environmental projects without any admission of liability.