(BeWellBuzz) The next time you pick up that Teflon coated nonstick cooking vessel or think about getting your carpet treated to make it waterproof, think again. Perflourinated chemicals or PFC as they are called is the group of chemicals that makes them so durable and tough. While these properties may make their use seem a very attractive choice it is not at all a healthy idea. Read on to discover what PFC is and how it can have an adverse impact your health.
What are perfluorinated chemicals?
Organic compounds consist of chains made up of groups of carbon and hydrogen atoms to which one or more functional groups are attached. Very simply perflourinated chemicals are long chained organic compounds where fluorine atoms take the place of hydrogen atoms in the carbon chains. Teflon is an example of a PFC.
The fluorine and carbon bond is much stronger than a carbon and hydrogen bond which gives these chemicals their unique properties and uses. They are tough, water proof, resist stains and are chemically very inert. They make durable coating for cooking vessels, make paints scratch proof and make carpets, clothes and furniture water resistant. They are used for fighting fires where water cannot be used. They are not affected by agents such as acids and oxidants which can react with most other chemicals.
PFC an environmental hazard:
Perfluorinated chemicals being very stable do not break down easily and accumulate in the environment. They are easily carried over long distances by air, water and ocean currents. They get into the bodies of animals through the respiratory system or through food and thus accumulate in the food chain.
Accumulation of PFC in our body:
Perflourinated chemicals get into our body when we eat food contaminated with PFC or by consuming meat of animals that have been exposed to PFC. Degradation of cooking vessels and food wraps are another source of contamination. Consumption of contaminated fish and milk products and inhalation of PFC dust are also responsible for human exposure. Unfortunately small children are the most affected by PFC dust inhalation.
The research on two compounds called PFOA and PFOS which are the ones widely studied has established that PFC exposure is higher in advanced countries and the highest in the US probably due to the higher use of these chemicals and higher consumption of processed food. These chemicals bind to albumin in our blood and are also excreted in breast milk. They have a long half life of 4 to 5 years which means that they donít leave our bodies easily. This has been confirmed by research on people who work in industries which manufacture PFC.
Adverse health effects of PFC:
The health problems caused by PFC are still under study. Most studies have been done on animals and these indicate serious health hazards:
- Liver damage: Liver enlargement has been noticed in animals that were exposed to high dosages of PFC.
- Impact on growth and development: Animal studies have confirmed that PFC causes higher number of neonatal deaths and interferes with the development and growth of the offspring. It has also been shown to affect the functioning of the thyroid hormone in humans.
- Impact on reproductive hormones: Animal studies have confirmed that PFC affects the levels of testosterone and also causes tumors and abnormalities in the Leydig cells which produce testosterone.
- Infertility: Blood tests on women who took longer than average to conceive have shown a higher than average level of PFC. Tests have also indicated that women with increased serum PFC content are also likely to have irregular menstrual cycles. In men PFC has been linked to inferior semen quality and lower sperm counts.
- Cancer: Though the results are not very conclusive due to the limited sample size, it has been found in one study that workers in PFC manufacturing units had higher incidence of bladder cancer. A higher incidence of prostate cancer was noticed in workers who have worked longer in such units.
- Effects on the immune system: PFC has been shown to make changes in the immune system in mice which may make the body more sensitive to allergens and less effective in combating pathogens.
- Cholesterol: PFC is suspected to play a role in increase in bad cholesterol in humans.
To reduce your exposure to PFC:
- Reduce the use of commercially packed food which could be packed in containers that have a coating of PFC to prevent the oil or fats from soaking into the packing. French fries and pizzas packed in boxes are examples of foods that could have PFC coating in the wrappings.
- Make sure that you don’t buy furniture and furnishings such as carpets which are treated with PFC. Also avoid getting these items stain or dirt proofed as the chemicals used for doing this often contains PFC.
- Take care when you buy clothes, check for Teflon in the labels and pay special attention if the garment in question is coated for water or stain resistance.
- Put your safety ahead of convenience. Use alternatives instead of Teflon coated or other nonstick cookware.
- Check the ingredients of the cosmetics you use for chemicals with names like “fluoro”.
Several governments and agencies have recognized the dangers of perfluorinated chemicals and are seeking to either ban their use in certain products or discourage their use. The European Union and Canada have taken the lead in regulating the use of PFC. Perfluorinated chemicals are also the subject of some global treaties which aim at restricting their use.