Common Household Chemicals Might Harm Kids'
TUESDAY, Jan. 24 (HealthDay News) -- Exposure to high levels of
a group of common household chemicals may impair children's
immunity, a new study suggests.
The team of researchers, from the United States and Denmark,
showed that elevated exposures to perfluorinated compounds (PFCs)
in early childhood was associated with a reduced immune response to
two routine immunizations.
"We found that PFC pollution is apparently making the immune system more sluggish, so that it doesn't react as vigorously to vaccines as it should," said study author Dr. Philippe Grandjean, an adjunct professor of environmental health at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.
The findings appear in the Jan. 25 issue of the
Journal of the Medical Association.
PFCs are commonly used in a wide range of household products
including nonstick cookware, carpets, upholstery and food packaging
such as microwave popcorn bags; previous research has found that
the chemicals are present in most people's bloodstreams.
Other recent studies have linked increased exposure to the
chemicals with early menopause and elevated cholesterol levels. But
Grandjean said this is the first study in humans to find an
association between high levels of PFCs in the blood and an
impaired immune response.
"What we don't know is whether this association represents a general immune system dysfunction, and if it has implications in regards to infections, allergies or even cancer," Grandjean said. "We are looking at something that appears to be just the tip of the iceberg, and we'd very much like to know what the rest of the iceberg looks like."
For the study, Grandjean and his colleagues followed 587
children born in the Faroe Islands between 1999 and 2001. In the
Faroes, located in the North Atlantic Sea between Iceland and
Norway, frequent intake of seafood is associated with increased
exposure to PFCs.
To examine the chemicals' effects on immunity, the research
looked at antibody levels to the tetanus and diphtheria vaccines,
which children in the Faroes are given at 3, 5 and 12 months of
age, with a booster shot at 5 years of age. The children's prenatal
exposures to five kinds of PFCs were measured by conducting blood
tests on their mothers in the last weeks of their pregnancies.
Postnatal exposure was assessed through blood tests at age 5. The
researchers then measured serum antibody concentrations against
tetanus and diphtheria vaccines at ages 5 and 7.
Grandjean's team found that all of the five PFCs measured showed
negative associations with antibody levels. In children who had
twice the average levels of PFCs in their blood at age 5, their
immune response to the tetanus and diphtheria vaccines at age 7 was
only half of what it should have been, Grandjean said.
The researchers noted that most levels of PFCs measured in the
children studied at age 5 were lower than the levels found in a
group of 3-year-olds to 5-year-olds in the United States studied in
2001 and 2002.
Another children's environmental health expert said the findings
were concerning. "It's one more thing, along with a number of other
findings about perfluorinated chemicals, that suggests we should
all be concerned about them in general and try to decrease
everybody's exposure to them," said Dr. Jerome Paulson, medical
director of the Child Health Advocacy Institute at Children's
National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
Grandjean said that in addition to avoiding products made with
PFCs such as microwave popcorn and nonstick cookware, parents who
want to reduce their young children's exposure to PFCs should
vacuum their rugs and upholstery more frequently "to control the
levels of house dust."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on
exposure to PFCs.
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