Marc h 9, 2006
Inside Bay Area
San Mateo County Times (California)
Cancer by ethnic lines?
Study shows lifestyle may play role in
exposure to carcinogen CFC [sic]
By Douglas Fischer
A suspected carcinogen used to make nonstick
and stain- and water-resistant products contaminates
white Americans at three times the rate of Mexican Americans and
nearly twice that of blacks, according to new data from the Centers
of Disease Control and Prevention.
Men in all three groups are slightly higher than women, according
to the research, slated for publication in the April 1 edition
Science and Technology. CDC researchers cannot explain the differences,
though genetic and lifestyle factors are primary culprits.
"It is difficult to know," said Antonia Calafat, senior
research chemist at the CDC's National Center for Environmental
Health and the paper's lead author. "Everything would be
The contaminants, known as perfluorochemicals or PFCs, are widely
found in low levels in people and wildlife across the globe. In
higher doses, they are suspected of causing cancer and other health
problems in laboratory animals. Last month, a U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency panel advised regulators to classify one of
them, perfluorooctanoic, or PFOA, as a likely human carcinogen.
Since the 1950s, the chemical family has become an increasingly
important staple in the manufacture of a wide range of industrial
and consumer products: stain-resistant carpets and textiles, packaging
materials for fast food and snack items, nonstick coatings on
cookware, even ant bait.
But while CDC researchers aren't drawing conclusions, one small
study suggests lifestyle may play a role. Last year, Calafat and
her CDC colleagues published a report showing Peruvian adults
had much lower PFC levels than their American counterparts. Given
many PFC-containing products are more prevalent in the United
States, the Calafat speculated lifestyle could be the reason for
the lower levels.
What the study shows, she said, was that
non-Hispanic whites somehow absorb more of the contaminant. White
males averaged 7 parts per billion PFOA in their blood, while
white women averaged 4 ppb. A part per billion is roughly
akin to splitting a chocolate bar with the city of San Francisco.
Mexican Americans tested had levels one-third
what CDC researchers found in whites. Blacks were about half,
or 3.6 ppb for black males and 2.8 ppb for black females.
And though PFOA is a key processing aid in the manufacture of
Teflon, among many products, researchers are stumped when it comes
to finding a source for that pollution.
In other words, Calafat said, don't toss out the Teflon pan just
Based on the peer-reviewed science, she said, "it doesn't
seem these chemicals can come from Teflon. But it is also true
that there are some sources of these compounds we don't know yet."
"They could come from many sources."
This newspaper's special investigation of our chemical body burden,
"A Body's Burden: Our Chemical Legacy," can be found
on the Web at http://www.insidebayarea.com/bodyburden.
Contact Douglas Fischer at email@example.com.