Vanderbilt University Medical Center – Babies exposed to chemicals used in non-stick cookware and other consumer products while in their mother’s womb were born at a significantly lower body weight, according a new study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, a publication of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences.

Researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center and UCLA tested blood from 1,400 pregnant women in a Danish birth registry and found that babies of women with high perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) levels were 175 grams lighter than those born to mothers in the lowest exposure level.

Animal tests have previously linked both PFOA and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) to cancer and developmental problems.

“This is a chemical that we don’t know very much about with regard to its long-term effects in humans,” said co-author Joseph McLaughlin, Ph.D., a Vanderbilt epidemiologist.

“It is long lasting and ubiquitous in the environment. It has a long half-life in the human body and it has been found to produce adverse health effects in animal studies but, as to humans, the research is scant and limited to date.”

So far, only two studies have been done in the general population. Both show effects on birth weight and other related outcomes, but it is still too early to say anything definitive. Studies conducted on highly exposed worker populations by 3M, a former manufacturer of these chemicals, did not show any clear adverse effects, although the worker cohorts were small in size.

“This is a new and growing area of research conducted by epidemiologists and toxicologists around the world,” McLaughlin said. “There are a number of research groups looking at the issues of offspring effects and cancer risk because little is known regarding long-term consequences, if any, of these chemicals in humans.”