Researchers from Denmark have just published research in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism finding that chemicals used to keep our worlds grease- and stain-free could be predisposing children to metabolic disorders later in life.
These chemicals, called perfluorochemicals, or PFCs, are littered throughout your home. In the kitchen, they're used in food packaging to prevent grease and oils from causing paper to tear. In your living room, they keep your upholstered furniture and carpets stain- and water-repellant and your drapes wrinkle-free. The chemicals serve the same function on permanent-press clothing and any outerwear, backpacks or other accessories that are advertised as water-repellent. While you'll wind up eating PFCs that are used in food packaging, you'll most likely inhale PFCs in all the other applications listed, since the chemicals bind to dust floating around your home.
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Regardless, once they're in the body, they're inflicting unknown damage. The Dutch researchers found that overweight children who had higher levels of certain PFCs in their blood were more likely to have higher-than-average levels of insulin and triglycerides, the types of fat that lead to heart disease. Combined, these suggest that overweight kids with high levels of PFCs are at a greater risk of developing metabolic disorders than overweight kids with low levels.
Because normal-weight children didn't have elevated insulin and triglycerides, even if they also had high levels of PFCs in their systems, the researchers are worried that being overweight can make kids more susceptible to the toxic effects of these persistent chemicals, which build up in blood and take years to get eliminated from the body.
Regulators have been sounding the alarm about PFCs for years, and two of the most toxic have been, or are being, phased out: PFOS, which was used in Scotchgard for years, and PFOA, which is used to make Teflon and Goretex finishes. And the Environmental Protection Agency has essentially banned any new PFCs that aren't already in commerce from entering the U.S. market.
Chances are, though, that you have PFCs lingering in your household dust. Here's how to cut down on your exposure:
• Stick with hardwood flooring. If you're planning any major renovations to your home, consider ditching your carpet and opting for a flooring material that doesn't need stain treatments, such as hardwood, cork, or real linoleum.
• Grill your carpet cleaner. If you prefer carpet—or you rent a home—look for professional cleaners that utilize PFC-free shampoos. Shampoos often contain PFCs to recharge existing stain-repelling carpet treatments. Ask to see an MSDS sheet for the shampoos they use and keep an eye out for any ingredient that contains "fluoro," which signifies the presence of PFCs.
• Steer clear of grease-resistant food packages. Microwave popcorn bags, food wrappers, and pizza boxes all contain grease-resistant coatings, as do pet-food bags and other bags designed to repel grease. Any bag that's paper on the outside with a plastic interior liner should raise red flags.
• Clean up your outdoor gear. Any product that advertises a Teflon, Scotchgard, or Gore-Tex treatment contains PFCs. Look for products made with nylon treated with polyurethane or, if you can find it, canvas treated with beeswax, both of which are free of PFCs.