Efforts to phase out a chemical used in nonstick coatings have resulted in fewer U.S. babies being born underweight in recent years, according to findings published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health.
Researchers at New York University based their findings on an analysis of blood samples of new mothers that were gathered between 2003 and 2014 as part of a national health study to examine levels of perfluorooctanoic acid – or PFOA. Exposure to the synthetic chemical, long used in a variety of consumer products, from stain-resistant carpets to nonstick pans, pizza boxes and Gore-Tex fabrics, has been associated with a range of potential health problems, including cancer.
Researchers suggest developing fetuses are particularly at risk for birth defects and lower-than-normal birth weights. Such concerns were a driving force behind a 2006 agreement between the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. manufacturers to decrease and eventually halt the production of PFOA by 2015.
For years, PFOA had been nearly ubiquitous in the United States, with much of it traveling unregulated through water supplies. According to the EPA, blood serum tests in the U.S. general population between 1999 and 2012 detected PFOA 99 percent of the time. However, those figures have begun to fall as companies have phased out the chemical.
The NYU researchers found that PFOA levels in women ages 18 to 49 continued to rise from 2003 to 2008, when median levels peaked at 3.5 nanograms per milliliter. But by 2009, not long after the government compelled companies to begin phasing out the chemical, the trend began to reverse itself. Blood levels of PFOA began dropping from a median 2.8 nanograms per milliliter to 1.6 nanograms per milliliter by 2014.
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