Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) are synthetic chemicals used to make stain, heat, and water-resistant products. They are also used to manufacture non-stick coatings. They exist in products like Teflon®, Scotchguard®, Stainmaster® and nanotech products. PFCs are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic to humans. They don’t break down in the environment and are therefore threats to our drinking water and food supplies.

There are many forms of PFCs, but the most common are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perflurooctane sulfonate (PFOS). Studies have shown that PFOS is linked to cancer, reproductive issues and developmental problems in animals. PFOA is also a likely human carcinogen. It causes liver, pancreatic, testicular and mammary gland tumors in animals. In addition, both human and animal studies have shown that exposure to PFOA or PFOS before birth is linked to low birth weight. While more research is needed to fully assess the effects of PFCs on humans, consumers should nevertheless still exercise caution when dealing with products that may contain these compounds.

Some manufacturers have voluntarily ceased production or phased out the use of certain forms of these chemicals in some products, but there is now concern that the alternatives used instead may degrade into dangerous PFOA. Therefore, it is best to limit exposure altogether.

• Avoid purchasing clothing, furniture or other consumer products treated with stain-resistant chemicals.
• Avoid the use of non-stick cookware, as these can emit PFCs when exposed to high heat.
• Avoid food packaged with grease-resistant packaging (such as microwave popcorn and take-out food).
• Filter your drinking water. (See our section on water for more information.)
• Regularly clean homes and offices to prevent the buildup of dust containing PFCs and other harmful chemicals.

Web Resources

The Breast Cancer Fund has an excellent web page on the links between PFOA and delayed menstruation, later breast development and increased incidence of breast cancer.