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Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs)

chemical profile of PFCs - perfluorinated compounds in Teflon and stain-resistant products

Stain-protectors Leave an Indelible Mark

Found in blood samples from 10 of 10 Washingtonians in the Pollution in People study

Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) are a family of fluorine-containing chemicals with unique properties to make materials stain and stick resistant. PFCs are incredibly resistant to breakdown and are turning up in unexpected places around the world. Although these chemicals have been used since the 1950s in countless familiar products, they’ve been subjected to little government testing.

There are many forms of PFCs, but the two getting attention recently 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 am I exposed?

PFCs are used in wide array of consumer products and food packaging.  pizza in box

  • Grease-resistant food packaging and paper products, such as microwave popcorn bags and pizza boxes, contain PFCs.

  • Carpet w/kidPFOS 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.  If Teflon-coated pans are overheated, PFOA is released. teflon frying pan

  • PFCs are in cleaning and personal-care products like shampoo, dental floss, and denture cleaners.
  • Even Gore-Tex clothing, beloved in the Northwest for its ability to shed water, contains PFCs.

Why should I be concerned?

PFCs are very persistent.  Even if production were to end today, levels would continue to increase in the environment for many years to come. 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.

What can government and industry do?

PFCs have been produced, used, and disposed of essentially without regulation for the last half-century.

Rising levels of PFCs in the environment and increasing governmental pressure, however, have led to voluntary actions to reduce PFC production and use.

  • In 2002, 3M ceased using PFCs for its signature product, Scotchgard, because of concerns over release of PFOS and PFOA during manufacture and use.
  • In early 2006, the EPA, Teflon manufacturer DuPont, and seven other companies announced an agreement to reduce PFOA in emissions from manufacturing plants and in consumer products by 95% by the year 2010.

While these actions are a step in the right direction, they do not adequately protect public health from the dangers posed by PFCs.

  • The state and federal government should act to phase out PFOA as well as chemicals that break down into PFOA.
  • As part of its Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxics Program, Washington state should complete a chemical action plan for PFOA and chemicals that break down into PFOA by 2007.
  • The federal government should conduct and expedited review of the remaining PFCs, and take action if problems are identified.

How can I reduce my exposure?

Avoid purchasing or, at a minimum, limit use of products containing PFCs.

Watch for packaged foods. Stay away from greasy or oily packaged and fast foods, as the packages often contain grease-repellent coatings. Examples include microwave popcorn bags, french fry boxes, and pizza boxes.

Avoid stain-resistance treatments. Choose furniture and carpets that aren’t marketed as “stain-resistant,” and don’t apply finishing treatments such as Stainmaster to these or other items. Where possible, choose alternatives to clothing that has been treated for water or stain resistance, such as outerwear and sportswear. Other products that may be treated include shoes, luggage, and camping and sporting equipment.

Check your personal-care products. Avoid personal-care products made with Teflon or containing ingredients that include the words ”fluoro” or ”perfluoro.” PFCs can be found in dental floss and a variety of cosmetics, including nail polish, facial moisturizers, and eye make-up.

Avoid Teflon® or non-stick cookware. If you choose to continue using non-stick cookware, be very careful not to let it heat to above 450ºF. Do not leave non-stick cookware unattended on the stove, or use non-stick cookware in hot ovens or grills. Discard products if non-stick coatings show signs of deterioration.

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