Nonstick coatings damaging to immune systems

The same chemicals that keep food from sticking to our frying pans, and stains from setting in our carpets, are damaging the livers and impairing the immune systems of loggerhead turtles on the US East coast – an environmental health impact that may also signal a danger for humans.

Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) are used as nonstick coatings and additives in a wide variety of goods including cookware, furniture fabrics, carpets, food packaging, fire-fighting foams and cosmetics. They persist for a long time in the environment and are known to be toxic to the liver, reproductive organs and immune systems of laboratory mammals. When exposed to the same levels of the most common PFC – perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) – that were found in loggerhead turtles in the wild, other species also showed significant increases in an enzyme that indicates liver toxicity, as well as signs of suppressed immune function.

A recently completed study showed that when mice were exposed to the same concentrations of PFOS that were found both in loggerhead turtles and humans, the ability of their immune system to respond to a challenge was reduced by half – and this occurred at the lowest level of the compound ever reported for a toxic effect.

If our immune systems have a similar sensitivity to PFOS, humans could be immunocompromised from current levels of environmental exposure to this compound.

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First Published in July 2008

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