By Lindsay Dahl,
Deputy Director

(Photo credit: Marc Wathieu)

Due to modern
technology it’s amazing that the grease from our pizza doesn’t stain the
passenger seat when we bring it home… but have you ever paused to think of what
chemicals are used to treat the pizza box to make it grease resistant? New
research on perfluorinated compounds (PFOA and PFOS), sheds light on women’s
increased risk of osteoarthritis from exposure to these toxic chemicals.

What did the study find?

The new study,
published in Environmental Health Perspectives, is adding to the growing
body of evidence that certain groups of people may be more susceptible to the
health effects of toxic chemicals than others. Researchers from Yale
University, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and Harvard Medical School found that
common levels of exposure to PFOA and PFOS are associated osteoarthritis. The relationship was particularly strong
in women, who are disproportionately affected by osteoarthritis. 

Women who were in
the highest 25% of exposure to PFOA, had about twice the odds of having
osteoarthritis compared to women in the lowest exposure group. (Even after the
researchers took age, income, and other factors into account.)

So what does this
all mean? Currently, the causes of osteoarthritis are still not well
understood. The biological mechanisms by which PFOA and PFOS may cause the
disease are still not definitively known, but other studies suggest these
chemicals have the potential to alter the delicate balance of our natural
hormones involved with inflammation, cartilage repair, and other factors
related to osteoarthritis.

Women at an increased risk

When we think
about groups of people who are particularly susceptible to environmental
threats to our health, children and pregnant women come to mind. But when it
comes to hormone-disrupting chemicals we should be thinking about how it
affects men and women differently as well. 

Chemicals can
impact males and females differently, depending on how they interfere with our
delicate hormone systems. One of the properties that make these chemicals so
useful in products is the same reason we should be concerned: they break down
incredibly slowly in the environment, and our bodies have a really hard time
getting rid of them. 

What are PFOA and PFOS and how are we

class of chemicals has a host of health problems (in addition to the new
findings in this study) such as, PFOA is a likely human carcinogen, PFOS causes
liver and thyroid cancer in rats, and both chemicals have been linked to liver
and kidney damage, and reproductive problems.

have been released in large quantities from manufacturing facilities for
decades, and thus contaminate our food and some water supplies. PFOS and PFOA
are breakdown products of a number of PFCs.

also occurs from consumer products, house dust, and food packaging.

  • Grease-resistant
    food packaging and paper products, such as microwave popcorn bags and
    pizza boxes, contain PFCs.
  • PFOS
    was used until 2002 in the manufacture of 3M's Scotchgard® treatment, used
    on carpet, furniture, and clothing.
  • PFOA
    is used to make DuPont's Teflon™ product, famous for its use in non-stick
  • PFCs
    are in cleaning and personal-care products like shampoo, dental floss, and
    denture cleaners.

What can you do?

Clearly, our federal laws on toxic chemicals are broken. Chemicals are popping up everywhere — just this week I
wrote about toxic chemicals that are found in our clothes and textile manufacturing.

The single most
important thing you can do is call your Senators and ask them to support the Safe Chemicals Act (Phone number: 1-877-573-7693). Or if you’d rather
send an email, take action here. Until we have stronger laws on toxic
chemicals, consumers will be faced with the never-ending “list” of consumer
tips of products to avoid. A burden none of us should have to bear.

In the meantime you can:

  • Avoid
    purchasing or, at a minimum, limit use of products containing PFCs.
  • Watch
    for packaged foods. Stay away from greasy or oily packaged and fast foods,
    as the packages often contain grease-repellent coatings. Examples include
    microwave popcorn bags, french fry boxes, and pizza boxes.
  • Avoid
    stain-resistance treatments. Choose furniture and carpets that aren’t
    marketed as “stain-resistant,” and don’t apply finishing treatments such
    as Stainmaster® to these or other items. Where possible, choose
    alternatives to clothing that has been treated for water or stain
    resistance, such as outerwear and sportswear. Other products that may be
    treated include shoes, luggage, and camping and sporting equipment.
  • Check
    your personal-care products. Avoid personal-care products made with
    Teflon™ or containing ingredients that include the words ”fluoro” or
    ”perfluoro.” PFCs can be found in dental floss and a variety of cosmetics,
    including nail polish, facial moisturizers, and eye make-up.
  • Avoid
    Teflon™ or non-stick cookware. If you choose to continue using non-stick
    cookware, be very careful not to let it heat to above 450ºF. Do not leave
    non-stick cookware unattended on the stove, or use non-stick cookware in
    hot ovens or grills. Discard products if non-stick coatings show signs of

Take action NOW!

Follow Lindsay on
Twitter: @Lindsay_SCHF