Stain repellents linked to low birth weight and premature births.
Dec 07, 2009
Stein, CR, DA Savitz and M Dougan. 2009. Serum levels of
perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctane sulfonate and pregnancy
outcome. American Journal of Epidemiology 170(7):837-846.
Synopsis by Jonathan Chevrier, Ph.D.
Research finds that stain repellent and anti-adhesive chemicals may be
linked to low birth weight and premature births in those born near a
factory that both produces and uses the chemicals.
A study that surveyed members of a West Virginia community finds that
higher exposures – presumably through water and air – to antistick
chemicals released from a nearby factory may be linked to low birth
weight and early birth in babies born to women who live in the area.
The synthetic chemicals of concern in the study are called
polyfluorinated compounds (PFCs). They are widely used in the
manufacture of stain repellents applied to carpets and furniture and
as anti-adhesives in pots and pans.
Two of the most common PFCs are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and
perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). While they are designed for use in
product coatings, PFOA and PFOS may also form when other PFCs break
down. The chemical plant located near Parkersburg, West Virginia used
PFOA since 1951 to make nonstick coatings.
These chemicals are very persistent and have been detected worldwide
in wildlife and humans. The most recent National Health and Nutrition
Examination Survey (NHANES) reported that virtually all US residents
are exposed to PFOA and PFOS.
Animal studies have reported reduced fetal weight and increased
neonatal mortality after exposure to high doses of PFCs. Results from
previous human studies have been inconsistent.
In this study, women with PFOS blood levels above the median (13.6
nanograms/milliliter (ng/mL)) had a 50% increased risk of low birth
weight and a 10% increased odds of preterm birth when compared with
women with exposure below the median. These women were also 30% more
likely to have preeclampsia, which is characterized by high blood
pressure during pregnancy and is in turn a risk factor for abnormally
slow fetal growth.
No clear associations were reported with PFOA blood levels despite
high median levels of exposure in this population (21.2ng/mL) relative
to the general US population (4.0ng/mL).
Data were collected as part of a survey of more than 69,000 people
living close to a chemical plant located in the Mid-Ohio Valley in
West Virginia. These data were collected following a class action
lawsuit alleging health damage due to exposure to PFOA, which is
believed to have occurred through groundwater contamination and air
deposition. Researchers measured PFCs in the blood of 1,845 women and
obtained information on pregnancy outcomes based on participant
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