US researchers have identified a link between chemicals found in non-stick cookware and heart disease.

But Australian experts have urged caution about the findings, which suggested increasing levels of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in the blood were associated with cardiovascular disease.

PFOAs are found in products that include lubricants, polishes, food packaging and non-stick cookware.

But people can also be exposed to the chemicals in drinking water and the air, a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine said.

The study reviewed the levels of the chemical in 1216 people with heart problems.

The findings were independent of other factors such as age, sex, smoking, weight, and diabetes.

The results contributed to the data emerging on the health effects of perfluoroalkyl chemicals, but the study could not conclude that the chemicals actually caused heart problems, the authors from the West Virginia University School of Public Health said.

Chair of Water Quality Research Australia Professor Michael Moore said ubiquitous exposure to PFOA, although at low levels, in non-stick cookware, could cause considerable anxiety.

He said the chemical was also found in coatings on clothing and carpets and in plumbing tape.

Prof Moore said the authors had tried to remove other lifestyle factors from the equation, but there was still a possibility the PFOA levels were caused by other exposures.

“The key point is that there are numerous established contenders for cardiovascular disease risk factors – smoking, lifestyle, exercise, diet – all of which may contribute more to cardiovascular disease than PFOA exposure,” Prof Moore said.

Monash University Professor Brian Priestly said the results of other studies investigating the link between PFOA and heart disease had been inconsistent.

University of Adelaide pharmacology lecturer Ian Musgrave said single blood measurements were taken in a short period of time and the long-term exposure to PFOA may be different from the results taken from one measurement.

“We know, for example, that blood levels for PFOA are falling over time due to regulation of this chemical,” Dr Musgrave said.

In the same edition of the journal, Debabrata Mukherjee of Texas Tech University Health Sciences said clinicians needed to act now, given the concerns raised by the study.

“It would make sense to limit or to eliminate the use of PFOA and its congeners in industry through legislation and regulation while improving water purification and treatment techniques to try and remove this potentially toxic chemical from our water supply,” Dr Mukherjee said.