Fluorochemicals (PFCs) are used in water-repellent finishes and waterproof outdoor apparel such as coats, bags and shoes. But fluorinated compounds also can be found in a variety of consumer goods such as nonstick cookware, paints and coatings, and stain-release treatments for carpet.
During the 1990ʼs it had become apparent that these materials had spread throughout the global environment and that they were accumulating in biological systems. These chemicals don’t “go away” they are persistent. In 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency became concerned about data that indicated fluorochemicals were found in human blood, in the general population. Flurochemicals have been identified by preliminary government risk assessment as being consistent with the category of a “likely carcinogen.” Dr Philippe Grandjean of the Harvard School of Public Health discusses his research into the affects of PFCs on children.
As a result of the EPA recommendation (not yet a regulation), all fluorochemical companies chose to stop manufacturing, using and selling Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA)
Although PFOA is readily available, cheaper and easier to source I decided to take it upon myself and researched fabrics until I found the perfect combination, fluorocarbon free, organically grown, durable and made the Britain.
MLM bags will be in contact with your baby at some point and I am on the front line delivering the babies of today so I have a direct responsibility to protect the environment of tomorrow.
Are PFOS and PFOA the only members of the PFC family shown to be potentially carcinogenic?
Many members of the family, including some with fewer than 8 carbons have been shown to cause changes in cells that may lead to the development of tumors (Trosko and Ruch, 1998; Upham et al, 1998).
Are PFOS and PFOA the only members of the PFC family shown to be persistent in the environment, and to bio-accumulate in humans, or in other animals?
Not at all.
Most PFCs are potentially persistent in the environment and many bio-accumulate, including some which have carbon chains which are shorter than 8 (Dimitrov et al, 2004; Lasier et al, 2011; USEPA,2009).
How could a so-called PFOA-free fluorocarbon, which has been tested and found to be safe for pond life, degrade into dangerous PFOA?
PFCs are the chemical building blocks from which fluorocarbon water-repellents are made. When the PFC is chemically bonded into the fluorocarbon water-repellent, it is held safely in a large molecule that is non toxic. These large fluorocarbon water-repellent molecules contain fluorotelomers. As the fluorotelomer ages, it is biodegraded in the environment, or oxidizes, splits up, and releases smaller toxic PFC acids. If the fluorotelomer is based on a C8 PFC, then the end product of the biodegradation will be PFOA. So a so-called PFOA-free product can, over time, release PFOA into the environment (Dimitrov et al, 2004; Dinglasan et all, 2004; Ellis et al, 2004).
How long will it take for fluorocarbon water-repellents, or fluorotelomers, to degrade to dangerous PFC acids (of which PFOA is an example)?
There has been disagreement on how long the process will take. There is now general agreement that it does take place in a sufficiently short time to contribute to PFC pollution.
One study shows that trout which have been fed fluorotelomer subsequently convert the material to PFC acids in their livers (Butt et al, 2010). Therefore, in theory, the degradation can happen via digestion. This is a particularly important point to be taken into consideration when assessing whether fluorocarbon water-repellents should be used in the home. Food contamination could lead to the absorption of PFC acids direct into the body as a result of digestion.
The fluorocarbon industry produced research that indicated that biodegradation in soil was an extremely slow process, taking thousands of years. However, when the US EPA repeated the research, they calculated a much faster rate of biodegradation and concluded that, “fluorotelomer-polymer degradation is a significant source of PFOA and other fluorinated compounds to the environment”. Soil degradation is only one way in which the fluorocarbon water-repellents convert into more toxic PFC materials. (Washington et al, 2009)
Are C6 PFC based fluorocarbon water-repellents proven to be entirely safe?
C6 based fluorotelomers will degrade and biodegrade to PFC acids in the same way as C8 fluorotelomers. Although the ultimate biodegradation product, PFHxA, may be less dangerous to humans and the environment than PFOA, it is still potentially dangerous. Furthermore, PFHxA is only one of a group of chemicals which will result from the biodegradation of C6 fluorotelomers. As well as PFHxA, fluorotelomer acids – bigger chunks of broken up fluoropolymers – will be produced in the biodegradation process. Fluorotelomer acids have been shown to be at least as toxic to aquatic life as smaller PFC acids (Michelle. M. Phillips, 2007).
Are PFCs the only members of the fluorocarbon family to bio-accumulate in humans, or in other animals
In a study of beached dolphins and porpoises in Chinese waters, a range of PFC compounds and other fluorocarbon chemicals, including PFOA and PFOS were found at high levels. But up to 70 per cent of the fluorocarbon material found in the dolphins was found to be unknown fluorocarbon chemicals (Yeung et al, 2009). This implies that not just the main PFOS and PFOA acids are bio-accumulative, but also a range of fluorocarbon materials that may come from varied sources, including the biodegradation products of fluoropolymers or pesticides.
Are fluorocarbon water-repellent liquid products for use in the home marked ” PFOA or PFOS free” completely safe for the user?
For all of the reasons mentioned above, all fluorocarbon water-repellents should be considered potentially hazardous for domestic use.
The factors below contribute to the conclusion that fluorocarbon water-repellent liquids are not ideal for use in the home:
- Liquids introduced into kitchens for use in washing machines can potentially cross-contaminate food.
- Fluorocarbon water-repellents biodegrade to a range of PFC acids including fluorotelomer acids
- Fluorotelomers, used in Fluorocarbon water-repellents, have been shown to biodegrade in rats and trout to PFC acids, and therefore may biodegrade via human digestion.
- PFOA and PFOS are just two examples of a family of toxic PFC acids
- PFC acids have been shown to be persistent in human tissue
- PFC acids have been linked to damage to the immune systems of children.
- The level of PFC acid required to potentially damage the human organism is extremely low: 10’s of parts per billion. This would be the equivalent of less than a hundredth of a headache tablet, by weight, distributed in the whole body (Grandjean et al,2012).
- Humans cannot effectively excrete PFC acids (although some may be more easily excreted than others). Therefore PFC acids build up progressively in the human bloodstream over time even if there is a very small source of them.