Banning a chemical used to make Teflon led to a sharp decrease in pregnancy-related problems.
Perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, had been used in many consumer products, including nonstick cookware, food packaging, electronics and carpets. The chemical was linked to a range of health problems, including low-weight births. Beginning in 2003, its use was gradually phased out in the United States under an agreement between government and industry, and eliminated by 2014.
Researchers used data from a larger health study to estimate levels of serum PFOA in women of childbearing age. They gathered data on birth weights from a government database. The study is in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health.
PFOA blood levels peaked in 2007-8, and then declined consistently each year through 2014. PFOA was implicated in 5 percent of low-weight births in 2007-8 and in 0.5 percent in 2013-14.
The researchers estimate that 118,009 low-weight births were prevented from 2003 to 2014, resulting in $13.7 billion in savings.
“It’s important to highlight the role of the Environmental Protection Agency in this,” said the senior author, Dr. Teresa M. Attina, a research scientist at New York University. “They sponsored a program with this goal in mind, acting in a good way by involving industry in the interest of public health.”