A chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), used in cooking utensils, has been associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

PFOA is an important processing aid in the production of fluoropolymers, a material that is fire resistant and can repel water and oil that makes it perfect for cooking utensils. Apart from cooking utensils, the chemical is also used in electronic goods, construction material, automobiles, and aerospace and textile industries. Finished products of fluoropolymers are not expected to contain PFOA because it is a processing aid and not an ingredient.

According to the authors of the study, about 98 percent of people living in the U.S have detectable levels of PFOA in their blood.

The study included more than 1,200 men and women from the 1999-2003 National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey. Participants' were asked if they've had any stroke or heart attacks in the past and their blood was tested for the presence of PFOA.

Researchers found that the chemical was independently associated with heart disease regardless of the participants' age, race, gender, body mass index, hypertension or diabetes. They say that PFOA is a novel risk factor for heart disease and is independent of the other known risk factors.

Not a Causal Link

According to Debabrata Mukherjee, MD, MS, of Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, El Paso, the study does not provide a causal link between the chemical and cardiovascular disease.

"However, a major limitation is the cross-sectional nature of the study. Given this significant limitation, causality or the temporal nature of the association between PFOA and CVD cannot be concluded from the current analysis," Mukherjee said in a commentary.

Mukherjee added that, although more studies are required to establish a causal link, it would be better to limit the use of PFOA.

Previous research

According to a review published in the Environmental Health Perspectives, there is limited data available to conclusively say that PFOA is linked to any diseases of concern. In this review, Kelly Steenland and colleagues report studies that have shown that exposure to this chemical causes tumors of pancreas, kidneys and testicles but add that these tests were conducted on animal models and may not prove a similar link in humans.

Other studies have shown that higher concentrations of PFOA and PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate) in the blood are associated with thyroid diseases in the U.S.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency says that consumer products may contain trace amounts of PFOA as impurities and that "the information that EPA has available does not indicate that the routine use of consumer products poses a concern. At present, there are no steps that EPA recommends that consumers take to reduce exposures to PFOA."

One study says that exposure to PFOA may not cause any harm to children.

The study was published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.