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Common Chemicals May Affect Fertility

Study Shows PFCs May Increase the Time It Takes to Get Pregnant

Measuring PFC Levels continued...

"This is just an association study," Olsen says. It doesn't prove cause and effect, nor does it explain how the chemical exposures might affect fertility.

It's possible that high levels of the chemicals in the blood stream may affect the menstrual cycle, Olsen speculates, and that in turn could affect fertility.

In recent decades, the fertility rates in developed countries have declined, Olsen notes in the study report. While much of the decline can be explained by wishes to have a smaller family size and better contraception, he says some may also be due to reduced fertility. And chemical exposures may partially explain that reduction, he says.

Olsen hopes others will study the same association to see if they come up with the same findings. "If this finding can be replicated, I think we have one of the explanations for the frequent problem of long waiting times [to pregnancy]," he says.

Second Opinions

The majority of Americans probably have concentrations of PFCs in their blood, says Olga Naidenko, PHD, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit environmental research organization based in Washington, D.C., who reviewed the study for WebMD.

"It has been used very widely and has now contaminated the environment," she says of the chemicals. The new study adds information about the effects of exposure to the chemicals on reproduction, she says.

"What they are basically seeing is that the reproductive health of these women has been severely affected by the PFCs," she says. "It is a painful shock. I don't know if I would call it a surprise."

"This is a preliminary finding," says John Heinze, PhD, a special consultant to the Fluoropolymer Products Information Center of the Society of Plastics Industries, who also reviewed the study for WebMD.

Much follow-up research will be needed, he says, to demonstrate meaning for human health.

Dan Turner, a spokesman for DuPont, which makes the chemicals, issued a statement that says, in part: "We are reviewing the study. The weight of evidence continues to indicate to us that there is no health risk to the general population."

Goals to Reduce Use of PFOAs

Efforts are under way to reduce the use of the chemicals. In 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched the 2010/15 PFOA Stewardship Program, in which eight major companies, including DuPont, agreed voluntarily to reduce the use of PFOA and related chemicals by 95% no later than 2010.

The plan is to eliminate use of the chemicals by 2015.

The EPA began to investigate PFOA "because it is very persistent in the environment,'' according to information on the EPA web site. ''It was being found at very low levels both in the environment and in the blood of the general U.S. population, and it caused developmental and other adverse effects in laboratory animals."

What can consumers do to minimize exposure, especially if they are trying to become pregnant?

"Exposures that come from products are very low," Heinze, the industry consultant, says. "It's not a reason to discontinue using consumer products." Exposure to environmental chemicals is more the issue, he says.

According to the EPA, routine use of household products made with the chemicals does not pose a concern, based on the information available to the agency.

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