The chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) -- which is widely used to make products such as food packaging, paper and textile coatings, polishes and lubricants -- is detectable in the blood of more than 98 percent of people in the United States, according to previous research.
In this study, a team at the West Virginia University School of Public Health looked at data from more than 1,200 people and found that increasing blood levels of PFOA were associated with the presence of heart and artery disease.
This association appeared to be independent of other disease risk factors such as age, sex, race/ethnicity, smoking, body-mass index, diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
The study was published online Sept. 3 in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
"Our results contribute to the emerging data on health effects of PFCs [perfluoroalkyl chemicals], suggesting for the first time that PFOA exposure is potentially related to [cardiovascular and peripheral artery disease]. However, owing to the cross-sectional nature of the present study, we cannot conclude that the association is causal," wrote Dr. Anoop Shankar and colleagues.
Further research is needed to confirm or disprove the findings, they added. While the study found an association between PFOA exposure and vascular diseases, it did not prove a cause-and-effect link.
Cardiovascular disease is a major health problem in the United States and identifying new risk factors for the disease, including exposures to chemicals, is important, the researchers noted.