From USA Today:

Children exposed to chemicals called PFCs — used in some non-stick cookware, stain-resistant coatings, fast-food packaging and microwave popcorn bags — have a reduced response to vaccines, raising the possibility that the compounds could prevent children from being adequately protected against disease, a new study shows.

The study, published today’s Journal of the American Medical Association, focused on perfluorinated compounds, hundreds of which are in use, says study author Philippe Grandjean of the Harvard School of Public Health. Children can be exposed prenatally as well as environmentally.

Because the compounds are water- and grease-resistant, they are used as coatings on paper plates, rainwear, upholstery and other uses. They can be absorbed through food, water and the dust from treated textiles. A 2011 report found that six of 10 paper bags and cardboard boxes used for food packaging contained PFCs.

Scientists measured children’s exposure by taking blood samples from their mothers during pregnancy, and from the children at ages 5 and 7.

At age 5, just before receiving a scheduled booster shot, 26% had antibody concentrations too low to protect them from tetanus; 37% had levels too low to protect from diptheria. Researchers gave them booster shots to provide additional protection, Grandjean says.

Children with the highest prenatal PFC exposure had the lowest response to vaccinations, as measured by the antibodies produced after they received the shots, the study says. Doubling a child’s PFC exposure cut immune response in half.

“That’s a pretty impressive effect, and one that deserves attention,” says Peter Hotez, director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, who wasn’t involved in the study. It “gives us pause for concern.”

The study involved 587 children born from 1999 to 2001 in Denmark, where people eat a lot of seafood, which can be heavily contaminated with PFCs. The results are very relevant to American children, whose PFC levels are even higher, says the study, sponsored by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Danish government.

Grandjean acknowledges that his study’s design doesn’t definitively prove that PFCs compromise children’s vaccine response. It’s possible that something else affected their response, says Paul Offit, chief of infectious disease at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. For example, it would help to know if children with higher PFC levels have any basic immune system problems, independent of vaccines.

The EPA and chemical industry phased out U.S. production of one of these compounds, PFOS, or perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, in 2002. Since then, blood tests show that exposure to this chemical have declined, Grandjean says. Manufacturers are in the process of phasing out another major compound, called PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid.

“But other PFCs may be increasing,” Grandjean says. “PFOS is now produced in large amounts in China.”

More.

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