Best to check it again to make sure it’s not creating risks to your health.
Do you cook your meals in non-stick pans? Use microwave popcorn bags? Walk on stain-resistant carpet?
If so, you may be increasing your risk of osteoarthritis, according to a recent study. That’s because all these items are likely to have perfluorinated compounds, or “PFCs,” which are tied to health effects and potential hormonal disruption.
What are PFCs?
PFCs are a family of fluorine-containing chemicals with unique properties that make them useful in a variety of commercial applications. They can help make materials resistant to stains, sticking, heat, grease, oil, and water. The two most well known PFCs are:
- Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)
- Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS)
These chemicals have been used in everyday consumer products for more than 40 years. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has discovered that they are highly persistent in the environment, and widely distributed in our waters and soils. Worse, animal studies have found that they can accumulate in the body over time, where they may cause developmental and other problems. The EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) has also classified PFOA as a likely human carcinogen.
What the Study Found
According to this recent study, which was published in Environmental Health Perspectives, “Higher concentrations of serum PFOA were associated with osteoarthritis in women.” PFOS was also associated with the disease, though not as strongly as PFOA.
Researchers from Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies looked at individuals between the ages of 20 and 84 diagnosed with osteoarthritis who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 2003 and 2008. They adjusted for other cofounders like age, income, and race/ethnicity, and still found that those with the highest exposure to PFOS and PFOA had a higher risk of osteoarthritis. In fact, women with the highest exposures were about twice as likely to have arthritis than those with the lowest exposures.
Study authors theorized that the chemicals may impact hormonal balances for women. “Our hormone systems are incredibly delicate,” said lead author Sarah Uhl, “and can be thrown off by tiny doses of hormone-disrupting chemicals. And processes like inflammation and cartilage repair are associated with our hormones, and are also associated with osteoarthritis.”
Other Health Problems Linked with PFCs
Osteoarthritis isn’t the only potential health risk associated with PFCs. As Sarah Uhl stated, “This adds to the body of information that we have suggesting that these highly persistent synthetic chemicals are of concern when it comes to the public health.”
Below are some other potential health complications from exposure to PFCs:
- Early onset menopause: A 2011 study found that those with high levels of PFCs were more likely to have gone through menopause prematurely. Researchers concluded that PFCs are associated with endocrine disruption in women.
- Heart disease: A 2012 study indicated that exposure to PFOA may be associated with heart disease and peripheral artery disease. Researchers examined 1,200 people and found increasing blood levels of PFOA were associated with the presence of both.
- Weakened children’s immune system: A 2012 study indicated that children exposed to PFCs were more likely to have weakened immune systems, making them more vulnerable to infections and affecting normal development of the immune system.
- High cholesterol: A 2010 study indicated that higher exposures to PFCs increase the risk of high cholesterol levels. “The authors found a positive association between total cholesterol and serum concentrations of PFOS, PFOA, and PFNA,” the study stated.
- Breast cancer: A 2011 study suggested that blood levels of PFCs “might be risk factors in the development of breast cancer.” Again, hormonal disruption was theorized to be the cause.
- Reproductive development: A 2013 study indicated that exposure to PFOA in utero may affect adult human male semen quality and reproductive hormone levels.
- Childhood asthma: Another 2013 study indicated a possible association between exposure to PFCs and juvenile asthma. “Because of widespread exposure to these chemicals,” the authors wrote,” these findings may be of potential public health concern.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), researchers found four PFCs (PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS, and PFNA) in the blood of nearly all of the 2,094 people they tested, “indicating widespread exposure to these PFCs in the U.S. population.”
What You Can Do to Protect Yourself and Your Family
Because PFCs are widespread in our population, it’s difficult to avoid them entirely. So far, they’re found in these products and more:
- Fast food packaging
- Textile coatings
- Non-stick cookware
- Firefighting foam
- Waterproof jackets
- Insulation on electric wire
- Car wax
- Stain-resistant upholstery or car interiors
- Flame retardants
- Candy wrappers
- Some personal care products
The government has taken some steps to start gaining control of these chemicals. They include:
- In 2006, the EPA initiated the 2010/2015 PFOA Stewardship Program, a commitment my major PFOA manufacturers to eliminate PFOA and related compounds in their products and manufacturing facility releases by 2015.
- In 2009, the EPA issued an action plan that calls for further studies to investigate the health effects of several PFCs, and to spur new regulations for those found to pose high risks.
- In 2012, the EPA proposed a Significant New Use Rule and a test rule of a subset of these chemicals, which, when finalized, will require companies to report to the EPA before using them in new ways, and to conduct testing on the current uses they play to continue.
Meanwhile, as we’re waiting for the slow pace of the government to change, you can take steps in your own life to reduce your exposure.
- Cut back on packaged food and fast foods. These are often held in containers coated with PFCs to keep grease from soaking through. Examples include French fry boxes, pizza boxes, and microwave popcorn bags.
- When buying furniture or carpet, ask questions. Choose brands that have not been pre-treated with chemicals. Avoid stain- and dirt-resistant types.
- Phase out your Teflon-coated and other non-stick cookware. Discard those with signs of deterioration. When heated to very hot temperatures, these coatings may emit harmful fumes, and most contain PFCs. Manufacturers are moving away from these chemicals and finding other options to reduce stickiness—find those that already have, or try stainless steel and cast iron.
- Use real plates instead of paper plates.
- Pop popcorn the old fashioned way, or use an air popper.
- Avoid buying clothing that is advertised as stain, water, or dirt repellant.
- Avoid personal care products that may have PFCs, including those with “fluoro” or “perfluoro” types of ingredients. Common PFC-containing products include nail polishes, shaving creams, lotions, and pressed powders.
- Use a water filter to remove any potential PFC contamination in your drinking water.
Do you have other tips for avoiding PFCs? Please share.
* * *
Sarah A. Uhl, et al., “Association of Osteoarthritis with Perfluorooctanoate and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate in NHANES 2003-2008,” Environ Health Perspect 121: 447-452 (2013), http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1205673/.
Alan Mozes, “Chemicals in cookware, carpets may raise arthritis risk in women,” Health Day, February 14, 2013, http://wn.wjhg.com/story/21196098/chemicals-in-cookware-carpets-may-raise-arthritis-risk-in-women.
Richard Alleyne, “Chemicals in plastics linke dot early onset menopause,” Telegraph, March 23, 2011, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/8401712/Chemicals-in-plastics-linked-to-early-onset-menopause.html.
“Chemical in Household Products May be Linked to Heart Disease: Study,” US News and World Report, September 4, 2012, http://health.usnews.com/health-news/news/articles/2012/09/04/chemical-in-household-products-may-be-linked-to-heart-disease-study.
“Study: PFCs Weakened Children’s Immune Systems,” CBS, January 26, 2012, http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2012/01/26/study-pfcs-weakened-childrens-immune-systems/.
Bonefeld-Jorgensen EC, et al, “Perfluorinated compounds are related to breast cancer risk in Greenlandic Inuit: a case control study,” Environ Health 2011 Oct 6;10:88, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21978366.
Anne Vested, et al., “Associations of in Utero Exposure to Perfluorinated Alkyl Acids with Human Semen Quality and Reproductive Hormones in Adult Men,” Environ Health Perspect 121: 453-458 (2013), http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1205118/.
Guang-Hui Dong, et al., “Serum Polyfluoroalkyl Concentrations, Asthma Outcomes, and Immunological Markers in a Case-Control Study of Taiwanese Children,” Environmental Health Perspectives, 121(4): 507-513 (April 2013), http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/wp-content/uploads/121/4/ehp.1205351.pdf.
Rachel Shaffer, “The Chemicals Called PFCs are Everywhere, and That’s a Problem,” Environmental Defense Fund, April 30, 2013, http://www.edf.org/blog/2013/04/30/chemicals-called-pfcs-are-everywhere-and-thats-problem.
“Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFCs),” Mind Disrupted, http://www.minddisrupted.org/documents/MD%20PFC%20Fact.pdf.
“Long-Chain Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFC) Action Plan Summary,” EPA, http://www.epa.gov/opptintr/existingchemicals/pubs/actionplans/pfcs.html.