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Study offers warning of negative immune effects from PFC exposure

Response from HEAL to scientific paper

Brussels, 25 January 2012 - A paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) today found that elevated exposures to perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) in children are associated with reduced immune response to routine immunizations (tetanus and diphtheria) in children aged 5 and 7 years old. (1) The study suggests that exposure to PFCs, before and after birth, may lower a child’s ability to make disease-fighting antibodies for tetanus and diphtheria later in life.

Lead researcher Dr. Philippe Grandjean from the Harvard School of Public Health followed over 600 children born at the National Hospital in the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic Sea. They chose this fishing community because the frequent intake of seafood is associated with increased exposure to PFCs.(2)

Children and adults are exposed to PFCs through use of everyday products like non-stick pans, stain repellent upholstery, cosmetics, household cleaners, clothing, and some food containers. (3)

Speaking about the findings of the study, Grandjean said: “The PFCs make the immune system more sluggish.” A sluggish immune system is less able to fight infection.

Lisette van Vliet, Toxics Policy Advisor, Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) commented:

“Aside from the concerns that this study raises about high exposures to PFCs and decreased vaccination efficacy, it may be foreshadowing the negative effects of PFC exposure on the general (human) immune system. This should function as an ‘early warning’ about the potential immunotoxicity of PFCs, chemicals to which we are commonly exposed. This new potential threat to the immune system should be swiftly taken up in the regulatory and risk assessment processes to which PFCs are subject, for example in the EU chemical Regulation REACH, and in the Stockholm Convention.”

Notes for journalists

1. Philippe Grandjean et al, Serum Vaccine Antibody Concentrations in Children Exposed to Perfluorinated Compounds, JAMA 25 January 2012

2. PFCs (perfluorinated compounds) are organic compounds containing an alkyl chain, where most or all hydrogen atoms have been replaced with fluorine. Several hundred different compounds are in current use, the most common ones being perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which also occurred in the highest concentrations in the study.

3. PFCs are highly useful for multiple purposes, because they are both water and grease resistant. This makes the PFCs suitable for coating of paper plates, food packaging, rainwear, shoes, upholstery, manufacture of non-stick pans, and many other purposes. The PFCs can be absorbed from contaminated food and drinking water, by inhalation of dust from treated products such as treated textiles, and from PFCs accumulated food chains due to environmental contamination. A recent report showed that six out of ten paper bags and cardboard boxes used for food packaging contained PFCs. The compounds are most frequently used in bags for microwave popcorn. The extent to which the PFCs are transferred to the food is unclear, however.

Originally posted on 25 January 2012

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