Fluorinated compounds are an emerging class of persistent pollutants that have a global presence in the environment, biota, and humans, but are only now beginning to be regulated.
Background – What are PFCs?
Teflon® and Scotchgard™ are brand names that most people recognize and use regularly. What many people might not have thought of is the behind the scenes production of these products. What makes them so effective?
The answer lies largely in the chemistry of a particular group of compounds, known as perfluroalkyl compounds, or PFCs. While production methods of these popular name brands have begun to change, that doesn’t mean they are automatically gone from existence. In fact, they may linger for many years to come.
PFCs are synthetically derived substances that have been in wide-scale production and use for over 50 years in both industrial and consumer applications.
Chemically speaking, the majority of these compounds have a chain that consists of 4 or more carbons where the hydrogen atoms have all been replaced with fluorine atoms.
At the end of the chain is usually a functional group of carboxylic or sulfonic acids, which separates these PFCs into either perfluoroalkyl carboxylic acids (PFCAs) or perfluoro alkane sulfonic acids (PFSAs).
Their chemical structure imparts unique properties on these compounds, making them extremely useful for numerous things, including stain repellents for carpets, furniture and textiles, water repellents on clothing and food packaging, and fire-fighting foams to name a few, but also making them extremely resistant to degradation, allowing them to persist in the environment and potentially bioaccumulate up the food chain.