Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFCs)

Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA or C8) and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS)

PFCs can occur through the breakdown of products like Teflon®.

EPA Provisional
Health Advisories (PHA)
PFOA 0.4 ppb
PFOS 0.2 ppb

Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFCs) are a group of manufactured chemicals used in a wide range of industries and commercial products. The two most common PFCs are perfluorooctanoic acid (also known as PFOA or C8) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). PFCs have been in use since the 1940s to make products that are water-, oil-, fire-, stain- or grease-resistant—products like Teflon®, non-stick cookware, stain-resistant carpeting and fire-extinguishing foams.

PFCs are among a group of chemicals that the EPA has labelled “emerging contaminants”—chemicals that may pose or are percieved to pose a threat to human health or the environment. PFCs are of concern because:

  • They break down slowly in the environment and move about readily in air.
  • They have been detected in surface water in cities throughout the U.S.
  • They have been detected in the blood of as many as 98% of Americans.
  • Once in the body they tend to stay there for a long period of time, about 4 years.
  • They have been shown to cause developmental and other health effects in laboratory animals.

In the late 1990s it was discovered that PFOS was present in the blood of a vast majority of the American population. The EPA called a meeting with 3M, the primary manufacturer, who agreed to phase out manufacturing of the chemical and to cease production by the year 2002. PFOA underwent a similar phase-out through an EPA “Stewardship Program” of major manufacturers that should see most emissions and use reduced significantly by the year 2015.

Human exposure may occur through diet, inhalation, or use of products containing the chemicals. The EPA reports that “fish and fishery products” appear to be a primary source.

Health Effects of Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFCs)

Exposure to large amounts of PFCs has been shown to affect the liver metabolism of laboratory animals. Long term exposure has been shown to affect reproduction and development, and cause tumor growth in laboratory rats.

There is a possible link between exposure to PFOS and bladder cancer in humans, according to some epidemiological studies. However, evidence of carcinogenicity is not conclusive and further research is being undertaken by organizations such as the National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer to determine the carcinogenicity of PFCs.

Water Treatment for Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFCs)

The EPA recommends activated carbon or reverse osmosis for the treatment of perfluorinated chemicals.

Sources: EPA (1), EPA (2), EPA (3), Environmental Health Perspectives

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