Step away from the Teflon, readers. In case you haven't heard by now, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a surfactant used in Teflon production, is wreaking havoc on the environment and on the community members that live close to the DuPont plant where Teflon is made. Recent studies have linked PFOAs and other perfluorochemicals (PFCs) to earlier menopause, high cholesterol, thyroid disease, and infertility. And a new study has just been released that links PFOA and another PFC called perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) — a chemical commonly found in stain repellants — with delayed onset of puberty.
For the study, researchers collected blood and medical histories from 69,030 people near the Parkersburg, W. Va., DuPont plant. This is the same community that filed a class-action lawsuit against DuPont in 2001, alleging health problems that arose from drinking contaminated water. And it is also the community in which teenager Kelydra Welcker conducting a science fair project and found that the DuPont plant was continuing to leak PFOA emissions into the Ohio River even after the company promised to reduce emissions in its lawsuit settlement.
Researchers evaluated 3,067 boys and 2,931 girls between the ages of 8 and 18. They used a questionnaire and measured blood levels of sex hormones to determine the age at which each child reached or was likely to reach puberty. They also analyzed each child's blood serum levels of PFOA and PFOS. PFOS is a type of PFC but it is not produced by the nearby DuPont plant.
They found that the kids in their study area — both boys and girls — had almost five times the national average of PFOA in their blood compared to other kids in the same age group around the country. Their PFOS levels were only slightly higher than the national average.
But when the researchers compared the kids' PFOA and PFOS levels with their age of onset of puberty, they found that girls with high concentrations of PFOA started puberty later than girls with low concentrations did. And both boys and girls with high levels of PFOS matured later than kids with lower PFOS concentrations.
The results are surprising considering that most of the time we hear about chemicals — particularly endocrine disrupting chemicals — the link is usually with earlier puberty. But any chemical that alters a child's reproductive system should be monitored closely. Especially when you consider that PFOS affected both boys and girls, even at concentrations that are considered "average" throughout the country.