Water-, stain-proofing chemicals hurt child immune systems?

All aboard the anti-chemical railroad.

A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association claims that water- and stain-proofing chemicals hurt child immune systems.

First — and as a reality check — there is no evidence of any sort indicating that typical chemical exposures put children at risk of any illness whatsoever.

As to this study, it appears that the researchers set out to link perfluorinated compounds with reduced immune response (a non-health effect, BTW) and then they claimed success even though their spotlighted results are statistically dubious — one is insignificant and the other has a margin of error almost three times larger than the size of the claimed effect. There is no indication that any serious effort was made to consider other confounding factors.

This isn’t science; it’s a railroad.

Here’s the study. Below is a news media report.


Common Chemicals in Products May Harm Children’s Immune System

By Michelle Fay Cortez – Jan 24, 2012, Bloomberg
Chemicals used in consumer products, including rain gear, stain-resistant carpeting, microwave popcorn bags and fast-food packaging, appear to limit children’s disease-fighting immune responses, a study found.

The research by Danish investigators, is one of the first to examine the effects of perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, on the immune system. It showed that children with the highest levels in their blood had the weakest responses to childhood vaccines. Higher chemical exposure also led to less infection- fighting antibodies to keep disease at bay, the study reported.

Decreased antibody levels may signal a weakened immune system that could have long-lasting implications, daid Philippe Grandjean, the lead author and chair of environmental medicine at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense. The reduced vaccine response suggests a rising public health threat, he said.

“If that’s true, it’s quite worrying,” said Grandjean, who also serves as an adjunct professor of environmental health at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. “It could affect the response of the immune system to infectious diseases and how we respond to microorganisms in general.”

Environmental experts and regulators worldwide have grown increasingly concerned that perfluorinated compounds, which are both water and grease resistant, are toxic, long-lasting and can accumulate over time. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency started restricting their use a decade ago.

Research on the human-health consequences is in the early stages, and more work is needed, the agency says.

Faroe Islands Children

The researchers tracked 587 children born in the Faroe Islands, a fishing community located northwest of Scotland. The high consumption of seafood on the 18-island archipelago is linked to exposure to PFCs, which were at similar or lower levels seen in American children, the researchers said.

Children who had levels of major PFCs that were twice as high in their blood at age 7 as their peers also had half the antibody concentrations for tetanus and diphtheria compared with the other children, the study found.

Those with the most exposure to PFCs by age 5 were significantly more likely to have insufficient protective antibody levels two years later, the researchers said.

Prenatal exposure to PFCs reduced the children’s ability to produce antibodies years later, the study found. Higher levels of PFCs in the mother’s blood were linked to fewer antibodies produced by the children at age 5. The pollutants can be transferred through placenta and breast milk, Grandjean said.

Only a handful of medical conditions, radiation treatment and cancer drugs have a similar effect on reducing the immune system’s response to immunizations, he said.

Alternatives Needed

The U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the EPA, the Danish Council for Strategic Research and the Danish Environmental Protection Agency funded the study. It will appear in the Jan. 25 edition of Journal of the American Medical Association.

Manufacturers should look for alternatives to PFCs, and phase out their use once safer products are developed, Grandjean said by telephone. Until then, consumers should look for products that are certified and marketed as PFC-free, he said.

“It’s possible and it’s a matter of consumer choice,” he said, pointing out the recent wave of products that are free of bisphenol-A, a chemical used to make some plastic containers, that has been linked to a range of medical problems.

4 thoughts on “Water-, stain-proofing chemicals hurt child immune systems?”

  1. “Common Chemicals in Products May Harm Children’s Immune System”
    Not the use of the word “May” in the headline. That’s really all you need to know to realize there is no need to read any further.

  2. Wait. Did they purposely use children with lowered immune systems? If so, that’s not a great control group :/

  3. Although no defender of PFCs, how does a chemical, dried-on/into a fabric, then get into a Mom’s breast-milk? Eating mostly fish as a protein, I’d guess the Faroe-Islanders would live longer than you or I. If ingested from the fish, how did the fish get the PFC-levels,–un-treated sewage?

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