A new research study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggests that perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) may reduce the effectiveness of common childhood vaccines. Researchers working on this study, headed up by Dr. Philippe Grandjean, chair of environmental medicine at the University of Southern Denmark, studied children born in the Faroe Islands due to reports of increasing amounts of PFCs in the drinking water and fish located within close proximity to the Islands. Children in the study received the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTaP) vaccine at 3 months, along with the recommended booster at age five. The researchers tested the immunity of the children, at age five and seven years, and drew some blood to test PFC levels. What they found wasn’t good. Higher levels of PFCs in the blood correlated with much lower immune responses. In fact, by the age of seven years, children with a twofold increase of bodily PFCs were up to fours times as likely to have an immune response that was no longer even clinically active. Basically, children with the highest PFC levels weren’t as protected or weren’t protected at all against disease, even though they’d been vaccinated.
PFCs are noted big bads in the chemical world. PFCs are chemicals with properties that allow manufacturers to make products that are stain and stick resistant. PFCs don’t break down well on their own and are persistent, meaning, these chemicals make their way into our environment and bodies and stay there, for a very long time. The two forms of PFCs you’ve likely heard the most about include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), used to make Teflon products, such as non-stick cookware and non-stick food wrappers, such as what you’d get wrapped around a fast food burger and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), formerly used in stain resistant (i.e. Scotchgard) products. PFOS and PFOA forms of PFCs correlated with the lowest immune responses in the study above.
Even without the study above, it’s been well known for a while that PFCs cause multiple health problems. Research shows that PFOAs and other perfluoroalkyls are linked to non-normal changes in sex hormones, breastfeeding problems and high cholesterol in kids. Animals long exposed to PFOAs have been shown to experience early death, delayed development and in some cases tumors. PFOAs don’t just attack kids and adults either. PFOAs have been found in umbilical cord blood samples of newborn babies, so pregnant mamas may pass these chemicals on to their babies. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers PFCs, “Highly potent greenhouse gases” and feels that their health effects on humans need more research. As such the EPA has phased out some PFCs and has kicked off a number of action plans meant to evaluate PFCs and if necessary limit them. However, changes to limit PFC use are slow in coming.
To protect your family now, it’s best to stay clear of non-stick cookware, slick fast food wrappers and optional stain treatments for new carpets, clothing and furniture. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) suggests families opt for untreated cotton and wool textiles and clothing and look for stainless steel or cast iron cookware and utensils instead of non-stick.
Lead image by Flickr User mak1e