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March 9, 2012

Harmful Chemicals in Common Household Products


We are living in an environment where toxic chemicals all around us and these harmful chemicals are very easy to get into our bodies without our awareness. It is very difficult to prove that certain chemicals have negative health effects to our bodies without conducting researches on humans. Nevertheless, a recent study, collaborated by researchers from the United States and Denmark, reported that exposure to high levels of a group of common household chemicals might weaken children’s immune systems and make them vulnerable to many diseases.

This team of researchers led by the study author Dr. Philippe Grandjean, an adjunct professor of environmental health at the Harvard School of Public Health in Massachusetts, the United States, found that children’s immunity would be reduced if they exposed to high levels of perfluorochemicals (PFCs) in early childhood. Because other recent researches about the association between PFCs and health effects were mostly conducted on laboratory animals, this research team believed that its study was the first study in humans and published its findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

PFCs are a group of chemicals found everywhere in our daily lives. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these chemicals are usually used to make fluoropolymer coatings on many products and allow those products to resist oil, stains, grease, water, and heat. There is a variety of products using fluoropolymer coatings, such as food packaging, heat-resistant nonstick cookware, clothing, carpets, upholstery, furniture, adhesives, and the insulation of electrical wire. Because some PFCs will not break down in the environment, they have been found in rivers as well as lakes and in many types of animals on land as well as in the water. Our exposure to PFCs is usually caused by using products with PFCs contents or by consuming PFC-contaminated food or water.

In order to find concrete evidence to claim that PFCs are harmful to human health, this U.S. and Denmark collaborative research team examined the PFCs effects on 587 children’s immunity. These children were born between 1999 and 2001 in the Faroe Islands, located between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. The research team believes that frequent consumption of seafood is associated with increased exposure to PFCs in the Faroese. After conducting blood tests both on these children’s mothers in the last week of their pregnancies and on these children at their age five and measuring their prenatal as well as postnatal exposures to five types of PFCs, the researchers discovered that the capability of the body to resist harmful microorganism had been reduced in half among those children who had twice the average levels of PFCs in their bloods.

Since the weakened immune systems will make us vulnerable to many diseases, we should avoid products containing these harmful PFCs like nonstick cookware and microwave popcorn. In addition, the researchers suggested that parents should vacuum their carpets and furniture as often as possible to decrease the levels of house dust at home in order to reduce their children’s exposure to those toxic chemicals.