Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs)

Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) are a family of fluorine-containing chemicals with unique properties to make materials stain- and stick-resistant. Some PFCs are incredibly resistant to breakdown and are turning up in unexpected places around the world.
Manufacturers have developed a host of chemicals in this family to repel oil and water from clothing, carpeting, furniture, and food packaging such as pizza boxes and fast-food containers. Fire-fighting foams have used them, as have cleaners, paints, roof treatments, and hardwood floor protectant.
There are many forms of PFCs, but the two most commonly found contaminants are:
  • PFOA or perfluorooctanoic acid, used to make Teflon™ products.
  • PFOS or perfluorooctane sulfonate, a breakdown product of chemicals formerly used to make Scotchgard® products.
How people are exposed:

PFCs have been released in large quantities from manufacturing facilities for decades, and thus contaminate our food and some water supplies. PFOS and PFOA are breakdown products of a number of PFCs.
Exposure also occurs from consumer products, house dust, and food packaging.
  • Grease-resistant food packaging and paper products, such as microwave popcorn bags and pizza boxes, contain PFCs.
  • PFOS was used until 2002 in the manufacture of 3M's Scotchgard® treatment, used on carpet, furniture, and clothing.
  • PFOA is used to make DuPont's Teflon™ product, famous for its use in non-stick cookware. 
  • PFCs are in cleaning and personal-care products like shampoo, dental floss, and denture cleaners.

Why we should be concerned:

PFCs are extremely persistent. Researchers are finding serious health concerns about PFCs, including increased risk of cancer.
  • PFOA is a likely human carcinogen; it causes liver, pancreatic, testicular, and mammary gland tumors in laboratory animals. PFOS causes liver and thryoid cancer in rats.
  • PFCs cause a range of other problems in laboratory animals, including liver and kidney damage, as well as reproductive problems.
  •  PFOA’s half-life in our bodies, or the time it would take to expel half of a dose, is estimated at more than 4 years. PFOS’s half-life is estimated at more than 8 years.
  • Exposure to PFOA or PFOS before birth has been linked with lower birth weight in both animal and human studies.

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