PFCs Persist in Us

PFCs (perfluorinated compounds) have been described by Environmental Working Group as “…destined to supplant DDT, PCBs, dioxin and other chemicals as the most notorious, global chemical contaminants ever produced.” Given that, you might be surprised to learn that a 2004 study found that 98% of Americans have detectable levels of PFCs in their blood.

I thought about the widespread use of these chemicals as I listened to an American Public Radio story about the clothing retailer, H&M, deciding recently to phase PFCs out of their clothing. You see, most clothing billed as stain-  or water- resistant has been coated in PFCs;  3M’s Scotchgard, DuPont’s Teflon and Stainmaster are just some of the brand names that provide these features.

According to the organization Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, PFCs are associated with organ damage, reproductive and immune system problems and cancer.  And we are all exposed to these chemicals not through wearing them, but ingesting them, because these toxic compounds are not only persistent in contaminated soil and water, but also frequently used in disposable food packaging and containers. Paper candy wrappers, microwaveable popcorn bags and even paper cups may be treated with PFCs in order to hold up to liquids and greases. Foodware and packaging makers are not obliged to disclose what chemicals they use in the manufacture of their products– that’s “proprietary” information– making PFCs impossible for consumers to dodge. As EWG expressed it:

…we are not talking about doses that are immediately harmful after a single helping of microwaved popcorn. Instead, we need to be concerned about on-going, continuous ingestion of small quantities of these chemicals, their documented build up in the human body over the years – and the subsequent health effects with which these chemicals are unambiguously associated. Of particular concern is the fact that there are no publicly available market surveys quantifying PFC use in packaging. As a result, consumers are unfairly deprived of their essential right to know and to make informed, independent decisions.

The Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families site advises these ways of avoiding exposure to PFCs:

  • 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.

It should already be clear that we need to end the use of these chemicals in consumer goods and in food packaging. For your sake and the planet’s,  do your best to avoid them.  This is another reason why it’s beneficial to use your own reusable cup and take-out containers. #BYOR!

As a citizen, be aware of, and advocate for, federal legislation to end the widespread use of PFCs in consumer goods as quickly as possible. The Safe Chemicals Act, S. 847,  currently awaiting a vote in the U.S. Senate, would instruct the EPA to take immediate action to reduce our exposure to chemicals identified as being persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (“PBTs”).  Call your Senators, and tell them you want to see this bill passed, or sign the League of Conservation Voters’ petition.

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