Forever Chemicals PFCs, PFOS and PFOA: Fact Sheet

What are PFCs ?

PFCs are very stable, man-made chemicals.  The chemical structure of PFCs is a chain of carbon atoms (4 to 16) surrounded by fluorine atoms and often with a charged functional group at the end (typically acarboxylate or sulfonate salt or acid).  PFCs with 8 or greater carbon atoms, including PFOA and PFOS, are long chain PFCs.  They are unique substances that repel oil, grease and water.

How have PFCs been used ?

PFCs have been used to make fluoropolymer coatings and products that are oil and water repellent such as Teflon, Stainmaster carpets, Scotchgard and Goretex.  They have also been used to make surfactants that are used in fire fighting foams and mist suppressants for metal plating operations.

Locations that may have been contaminated with PFCs include:

  • Fire fighting training areas
  • Aircraft crash sites
  • Metal coating and plating facilities
  • Water treatment systems and receiving water bodies
  • Airport hangers and other facilities storing fire-fighting foams

Where are PFCs found in the environment ?

PFCs are extremely stable and persistent in the environment and migrate easily.  They have been found globally (even in remote locations) in water, soil and air, as well as in food, breast milk, umbilical cord blood, and human blood serum.  They also concentrate in the food chain.

How does exposure to PFCs affect human health ?

Scientists are continuing to study PFCs.  Studies show that humans do not metabolize PFCs nor does the human body excrete the longer chain compounds very rapidly, in some cases it may take years for the human body to rid itself of PFCs.  This is contrast to animals (mice and rats) which rapidly excrete the chemicals.  Some studies suggest that these substances may affect sex hormones and cholesterol in humans.  Animal studies indicate damage to the liver and tumour development.

What treatment solutions are available ?

PFAS treatment systems need to be specifically engineered, with consideration of specific wastewater chemistry, co-contaminant removals, and the pros and the cons of different treatment options.

Successful treatment solutions that have been applied to the treatment of PFAS include:

  • Granular activated carbon (GAC)
  • Ion-exchange (IX) resins
  • Ultrafiltration (UF)
  • Reverse osmosis (RO)

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Services include design and manufacture of treatment plants, installation of equipment (tanks, pumps, monitoring systems), optimisation of existing plants, maintenance & servicing and chemical supply.

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