Study Finds Less Teflon in Environment Leads to Less Brain Damage

The phasing out of suspect chemicals has improved birth health trends.

According to a new study published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, government and industry efforts to eliminate and phase out the use of chemicals like teflon to make non-stick cooking utensil coatings have prevented some 118,000 low-weight births and related brain damage in the U.S.

The main finding of the new study, conducted at the NYU School of Medicine, explains that nearly 15 years after phasing out teflon and similar chemicals, their damaging effects have subsided dramatically. According to NYU, the chemicals had been historically linked with high blood pressure, birth defects and low birth weights. The damaging health effects were the primary driving factor behind a 2006 agreement between the US EPA and manufacturers to eliminate the use of these chemicals on consumer cooking utensils.

The national health study, said NYU, was based on analysis of new mothers' blood samples. Health epidemiologist and NYU’s lead investigator Leonardo Trasande commented: "The evidence is overwhelming that the EPA-industry accord to phase out chemicals once used in nonstick coatings has been a major success in protecting children's health.” This policy, he said, designed to lessen human exposure,  “has spared thousands of newborns from damage to their health and saved U.S. taxpayers over a billion dollars in unnecessary health care costs."

A healthy newborn typically weighs about eight pounds (3,600 grams), said NYU citing experts, and low birth weights (considered anything less than 5.5 pounds (2,500 grams) is associated with a potential to cause brain damage.

Prior to 2006, the principal danger to fetuses and pregnant women came from chemicals called perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA. Because PFOA does not occur naturally in the environment, the compounds accumulate in the blood of marine mammals and humans exposed to them. Research over decades, has linked, “even a nanogram (one-billionth of gram) increase in PFOA per milliliter of blood to an 18.9 gram reduction in birth weight.”

Trasande warned that even though the EPA has had great impact lowering blood PFOA levels, pans and other utensils manufactured before the phase-out are still in circulation. “The health impact for chemical replacements for PFOA, related chemicals called perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) remain unknown,” said Trasande, explaining that “both chemical groups are endocrine disruptors, a set of chemicals shown by recent studies to interfere with natural hormone function.”


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