Sunday, January 29, 2012
Risks of nonstick & water-stainproof "Teflon" chemicals
Polyfluoroalkyl chemicals, or PFCs, used in nonstick,water/stain-repellant coatings such as Teflon, Gore-tex and Scotchgard, are found in cookware, clothing, and many other daily consumer products--as well as in our bodies. One especially worrisome PFC, known as perfluorooctanaoic acid (PFOA), is found in more than 99 percent of Americans, according to findings by the Centers for Disease Control.
Below is a summary of the science finding possible risks of PFCs, followed by how to choose PFC-free products.
RISKS OF PFCS
Weakening children's immune systems
A startling new study finds that children exposed to PFOA and PFOS may have weakened immune systems, making it more difficult for their bodies to fight off infection and disease. Researchers tested for the PFCs in the blood of 587 children in Scotland's Faroe Islands from pre-birth to age seven, and discovered that those exposed to the chemicals had built up lower levels of antibodies to tetanus/diphtheria vaccines, reducing their immunity by up to one-half. Lead researcher Philip Grandjean, MD, DSc, told the Harvard Gazette that PFCs may pose a greater threat to the body's immune systems than the very toxic chemicals known as dioxins, which are classified as "likely human carcinogens" by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). And, chillingly, he noted that American women and children have higher levels of PFCs in our bodies than the Faroe Islanders have. The study is in the January, 2012 Journal of the American Medical Association.
Learning deficits in children
Children with higher blood serum levels of PFCs also have higher odds of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), according to a 2010 study of 571 adolescents ages 12-15 published in Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP).
Infertility in Women
Women with higher levels of PFCs in their blood had a harder time getting pregnant, researchers at the UCLA School of Public Health reported in 2009.
EPA has not yet completed a risk assessment of PFOA, but the agency’s Scientific Advisory Board has said that PFOA cancer data were consistent with its guidelines for likely human carcinogens.
HOW ARE WE EXPOSED?
Food and food packaging
Researchers in the Harvard study think that the mother's and children's PFC exposures came mostly from consumption of fish, which is a staple in the islanders’ diet. PFCs are released in the environment during manufacture and accumulate in animals' bodies, rising in the food chain.
House dust and leaching
Two studies released in 2011, conducted in Catalonia, Spain and Vancouver, Canada. Like many other toxic chemicals, such as phthalates in PVC plastic, PFCs can leach/migrate out of fabric finishes and nonstick coatings as these surfaces erode and break down in light, heat, and wear and tear. The EPA refers to how PFOA, specifically, can be released by breakdown of coatings made with it.
CHOOSING PFC-FREE PRODUCTS
These findings underscore the importance of removing PFCs from manufacture, which is the source of contamination of our waterways and food. By stopping our purchase of products coated with these chemicals, such as nonstick cookware and rain/stain repellant clothing, bedding, upholstered furniture, carpeting, and even dental floss, we send a clear message to manufacturers, who respond to reduced demand.
Avoid nonstick-coated cookware
For what to choose, see my Green Cookware List. For how to safely use nonstick cookware to avoid "Teflon flu" and bird-killing fumes, click here.
For a rundown on fabric finishes to avoid in clothing, furnishings and bedding, with some greener bedding choices, see my Whole Living Econundrums blog.
Steer clear of Teflon nail polishes and curling irons; do keep flossing your teeth :), but try to use unwaxed rather than "Glide" type coated floss, EWG advises.
For more on "Lose It" toxic chemicals in daily products, and "Choose It" greener, healthier products and ingredients, check out my book, Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices. And do visit my home page for seasonal green living choices at GreenerPenny.com. Got an econundrum? Just ask me at GreenerPenny@gmail.com. I promise to reply.