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Authorities must assess safety of food packaging chemical - report

By Mark Astley , 25-Jan-2012

A scientific study has called on authorities to assess the immunotoxicity of a chemical found in some food packaging applications, after it was found to decrease the effect of childhood immunisations.

The report, Serum Vaccine Antibody Concentrations in Children Exposed to Perfluorinated Compounds, has claimed that exposure to perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) leads to a reduced response to childhood immunisations.

It was published by The American Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

It found that exposure to the family of fluorine-containing chemicals, which include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), and perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS), may increase a child’s risk of not being protected against diseases such as diphtheria and tetanus – despite a full schedule of vaccinations.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), PFCs are used to make fluoropolymer coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water – including oil-resistant coatings for paper products approved for food contact.

Immunotoxic potential

“The findings suggest a decreased effect of childhood vaccines and may reflect a more general immune system deficit. Assessment of risk related to exposure to these contaminants therefore needs to consider the immunotoxic potential of the PFCs,” the report said.

The study, which is apparently the first to link PFC exposure in children to deficits in immune system functions, found “that a 2-fold greater concentration of the exposure was associated with a halving of the antibody concentration.”

“Prenatal and postnatal PFOS exposures, as well as postnatal PFOA exposure, were associated with increased odds of antibody concentrations below the protective level.”

“The results indicate that PFC exposures at commonly prevalent serum concentrations are associated with lower antibody responses to childhood immunisations and an increased risk of antibody concentrations below the level needed to provide long-term protection,” added the report.

EFSA call for data

In March 2010, the European Commission (EC) issued Recommendation 2010/161/EU, which recommends that member states monitor the presence of these chemicals in food throughout 2010 and 2011.

The EC has since requested the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to launch a call for data on the presence of PFCs in food.

The deadline for this call for data is 31 January 2012, at which point an intermediate report on the substance will be available.

The paper, which was written by Dr. Philippe Grandjean from the Harvard School of Public Health, documented an examination into the long-term term effects of PFCs on antibody responses to vaccinations.

During the study, PFCs were measured both in maternal pregnancy serum and in samples from around 600 children at the age of five – allowing assessment of pre- and post-natal exposure.

The child’s antibody concentrations were measured as outcomes at the age of five and seven.

“Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) have emerged as important food contaminants. They cause immune suppression in a rodent model at serum concentrations similar to those occurring in the US population, but adverse health effects of PFC exposure are poorly understood,” the report added.

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