A key chemical used in the manufacture of hundreds of consumer items appears to be linked to lower birth weights in newborn babies, according to the preliminary findings of a study at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The study, which is still underway, sampled the blood of 300 newborns and looked at their levels of exposure to PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic Acid) and other fluorinated chemicals in relation to their birth weight, head circumference and other developmental markers.
PFOA, otherwise known as C8, is used to make the popular nonstick cookware coating, Teflon. PFOA is also used in the making of the protective coating that prevents grease stains on French fry boxes, popcorn boxes, candy bar wrappers as well as stains from hundreds of other food items.
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Ninety-five percent of Americans, including children, have C8 in their blood, and the government is trying to figure out how the chemical got there and the risks associated with it.
Dr. Lynn Goldman, one of the scientists running the Johns Hopkins independent study, said her team wanted to study the health effects of low levels of C8 exposure.
"It appears that there is a relation between a higher level of exposure and lower birth weight, as well as the circumference of the head," she said. Goldman described the decreases as "very small."
While the results are preliminary, if confirmed they could have a major impact on numerous legal battles as well as possible federal regulation of the chemical.
Residents near DuPont's West Virginia plant, where Teflon is made, are suing DuPont, arguing their drinking water has been polluted by C8. DuPont has already paid more than $100 million to settle lawsuits brought by residents.
In an agreement between the government and DuPont reached last year, DuPont voluntarily agreed to virtually eliminate any emissions of C8 by 2010.
A government advisory panel classified C8 as a "likely carcinogen," and previous studies have indicated that it can cause developmental and other adverse effects in laboratory animals, according to the EPA.
Yet C8 is not currently regulated under federal environmental laws while the EPA continues to conduct research on the chemical.
DuPont has long denied there is any danger presented by C8, and this study does not change their position.
"Many chemicals were detected in the study's samples," said Dr. Robert Rickard, Science Director at DuPont, "and it is important to note that the observations from the study were very small and well within normal ranges."
Goldman says that if her team's findings do stand up, a much larger study would be needed to determine whether the findings could be duplicated.