A new study from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies has linked exposure to perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) — a family of chemicals used in more than 200 industrial processes and consumer products such as Teflon nonstick cookware — with osteoarthritis.

Because of their persistence, PFCs have become ubiquitous contaminants of humans and wildlife. The study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, is the first to look at the associations between perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), and osteoarthritis, in a study population representative of the United States.

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The researchers analyzed data from six years of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which enabled them to account for factors such as age, income and race/ethnicity. When they looked at men and women separately, they found clear, strong associations for women, but not men.

Women in the highest 25 percent of exposure to PFOA had about two times the odds of having osteoarthritis compared to those in the lowest 25 percent of exposure, according to the study.

"We found that PFOA and PFOS exposures are associated with higher prevalence of osteoarthritis, particularly in women, a group that is disproportionately impacted by this chronic disease,” said Sarah Uhl, who authored the study along with Yale Professor Michelle L. Bell and Tamarra James-Todd, an epidemiologist at the Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Although production and usage of PFOA and PFOS have declined due to safety concerns, human and environmental exposure to these chemicals remains widespread. Future studies are needed to establish temporality and shed light on possible biological mechanisms, the authors said.