Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is a manmade chemical commonly used in the manufacture of non-stick cookware, polishes and lubricants, paper and textile coatings, food packaging materials and many household products. Surveys have shown that PFOA is so pervasive that its presence is detectable in the blood of 98% of Americans, so it was already something to be concerned about.
New research has increased those concerns. A new study of 1,216 people published in the Archives of Internal Medicine has found compelling evidence that PFOA is associated with cardiovascular disease and peripheral artery disease.
Study leader Anoop Shankar, M.D., Ph.D., from the West Virginia University School of Public Health, examined the association between levels of PFOA in the blood of study participants and levels of two proven markers of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease (CVD). He and his colleagues found a strong association between high PFOA levels and high incidences of CVD, an association that seems to be independent of variables such as sex, age, race, body mass index, smoking status, diabetes, hypertension, and cholesterol level. The study subjects with the highest levels of PFOA in their blood had double the chances of having a history of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke than those subjects with the lowest levels. The highest PFOA levels were also associated with a 78% higher risk of peripheral artery disease.
Although the authors stop short of saying that PFOA causes cardiovascular disease, they found a strong enough association to issue warnings about the chemical: "Cardiovascular disease is a major public health problem. Identifying novel risk factors for CVD, including widely prevalent environmental exposures, is therefore important." They warn that if their findings are replicated, "the population-attributable risk of PFOA exposure on CVD risk could potentially be high."
This study adds to existing concerns about PFOA
Several researchers have called for a ban on the use of PFOA. As one commenter on this study says, there is enough plausibility in the relationship between PFOA and cardiovascular disease that "it would make sense to limit or to eliminate the use of PFOA and its congeners in industry through legislation and regulation while improving water purification and treatment techniques to try and remove this potentially toxic chemical from our water supply." Additional studies have shown that exposure to PFOA causes tumors of the pancreas, kidneys, and testicles in animals, and that PFOA is associated with thyroid disease in humans.
So far the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has taken no action on PFOA, citing insufficient evidence to declare an absolute cause-and-effect link between the chemical and these diseases. But watchdog agencies such as the Environmental Working Group caution that 90% of the aluminum-based cookware sold in the United States is coated with Teflon and other non-stick surfaces made from PFOA, and that if you can afford to replace your non-stick cookware, you should strongly consider doing so. They recommend the use of stainless steel, ceramic, or cast iron cookware instead.