BOSTON – Harvard scientists have released a new study saying children exposed to fluorine-based chemicals from textiles and food packaging, may have compromised immune systems and are less likely to respond to routine vaccinations. Perfluorocarbons (PFC’s) are widely used to give stain- and water-repellent finishes to outdoor clothing and interior textiles.
The research was led by Dr Philippe Grandjean of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, USA, and is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It is thought to be the first study to link PFCs to immune problems in children and tracked a group of 656 children from the Faroe Islands, in the North Atlantic Ocean, before birth until they were seven years old. It linked their blood levels of PFCs to their response to routine diphtheria and tetanus vaccines.
Results showed that the PFCs with the highest serum concentrations were perfluorooctane sulphonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and that a doubling in mothers’ blood levels of PFOS, corresponded to a 39 per cent drop in the diphtheria antibody concentration of their children at age five. It was also found that there were uniformly negative associations with antibody levels and PFC exposure — especially at age 7 years. Here, a doubling in a child's PFC levels corresponded to a halving of antibody levels. However, the tetanus antibody level following PFOS exposure was not statistically significant.
Speaking to Reuters Health, Dr Grandjean said, “When the PFC concentration increases in the body, the immune system gets more sluggish and is less capable of maintaining a defence mechanism against microorganisms.” These findings don’t prove the chemicals themselves are harming the immune system, Grandjean said he thought that it was “very likely” to be the case. “I don't feel comfortable with the compounds for myself and my family and would rather eliminate them,” he explained.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, which is considering regulation against PFC’s, these chemicals as toxic to laboratory animals, causing reproductive, developmental and other health problems. But so far, they haven't been shown to pose a significant threat to the general human population.
However, the study has met with some criticism by other research groups. Dr Gilbert Ross, medical director of the American Council on Science and Health, a non-profit funded by corporations took a harsh view of the study. “Absolute junk,” Ross told WebMD. He says no studies have found increased rates of tetanus or diphtheria among people with higher PFC concentrations in their bodies. “It appears to represent this group's attempt to link PFCs to some adverse health effect.” The study he said had “no clinical significance whatsoever.”
However, another researcher, Alastair Hay of the University of Leeds, said the new study was well conducted. “The implication of this work is that everyday exposure to these chemicals makes us more vulnerable to infections,” he said in a statement to News Medical, “We cannot afford to ignore the research, but equally we should not panic. What we need is a measured response to test the findings in a robust way and assess their implications for our health and particularly that of our children.”
from EcoTextile News