PFCs are often used to make products slicker and more repellent. Some of the many places they may be found include:
- Nonstick cookware
- Grease-resistant food packaging, such as microwave popcorn bags, pizza boxes, and fast food sandwich wrappers
- Paper plates
- Stain-resistant upholstered furniture
- Some clothing items, including those made of Gore-Tex and other fabrics treated for water or stain resistance
- Camping and sporting equipment
- Certain cosmetic and personal care products, including shampoo, dental floss, denture cleaners, nail polish, eye make-up, pressed powder, shaving cream, and lotion
PFCs have been previously linked to other negative health effects. These include higher levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol, skewed thyroid hormone levels, premature onset of menopause in women, liver inflammation, reduced vaccine effectiveness in children, smaller birth size of babies, and weakening of the immune system. They cause cancer in laboratory animals and are likely human carcinogens.
It seems ironic that PFCs are generally used for their anti-stick properties given the fact that they are very “sticky” and persistent in the environment and in our bodies. It takes a human body 4 years to expel half of a dose of one of the two most common PFCs and more than 8 years to process half a dose of the other. Some varieties of the chemicals have been removed from the market, but others have taken their place. The Environmental Working Group notes that "companies that manufacture PFCs have agreed to phase out one variety, called PFOA, by 2015. Unfortunately, there’s no evidence that the chemicals being used to replace it are any safer."
Tips for avoiding PFCs include the following:
- Avoid use of Teflon-type non-stick cookware. Safer alternatives are stainless steel, cast iron, ceramic, or enamel. Remember that it isn't just pans that may be coated with PFCs, but muffin tins, cookie sheets, and other bakeware.
- Decline optional stain-protection treatment when buying furniture. Some health experts recommend covering any treated furniture already owned with a heavy slipcover to impede migration of the chemicals from the furniture into your body.
- Carpeting should be avoided for many reasons. (See this previous post.) Adding treatment for stain resistance makes a bad product worse.
- Avoid clothing treated for water or stain repellency. In most situations, the benefits are not worth the risk. Tightly-woven non-treated fabrics are often an acceptable alternative.
- Minimize consumption of food packaged in PFC-coated containers. Pop popcorn on the stove, in an air-popper, or in a plain brown bag in the microwave. Use glass or ceramic for microwave cooking and for storing leftovers, Avoid paper plates.
- When buying cosmetics and personal care products, read the labels and look for PTFE and for ingredients that start with "fluoro" or "perfluoro." These are PFCs and should be avoided.
I know it’s discouraging to constantly read of the extent of the chemical problem and the ramifications of using the products that surround us. I find it discouraging, too. We simply must educate ourselves, though, and do what we can to protect ourselves and our fellow human beings. Seemingly small decisions can matter more than we imagine.