Chemicals found in water-resistant products may lead to thyroid disease

Adults who suffer from thyroid disease may be unaware of why they have the illness. However, new research shows that human exposure to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) may be linked to thyroid problems.

PFOA is an organic chemical that is frequently used in nonstick cookware and stain-resistant or water-resistant coatings on carpets and fabrics. In a study published by Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers found that people with higher concentrations of PFOA in their blood have higher rates of thyroid disease.

The study included 3,966 adults who were aged 20 and older, and whose blood serum was sampled between 1999 and 2006 for PFOA and other perfluoroalkyl acid (PFAA) compounds, including perfluoroctane sulphonate (PFOS). Researchers found that individuals in the highest 25 percentile for PFOA concentrations were more than twice as likely to report current thyroid disease than individuals with the lowest concentrations. They also found a link between thyroid disease and higher concentrations of PFOS in men, but not in women.

Tamara Galloway, a professor of ecotoxicology at the University of Exeter and the study's senior author, wrote, "Our results highlight a real need for further research into the human health effects of low-level exposures to environmental chemicals like PFOA that are ubiquitous in the environment and in people's homes. We need to know what they are doing."

The findings are important because research has shown that PFAAs are found in water, air and soil throughout the world, even in remote polar regions. Further research may encourage companies to reconsider using these chemicals in their products, as more people are being put at risk for thyroid diseases.