When Roy Plunkett first discovered the compound that would be later in use in so many processes, it is only left to one’s imagination if he had any idea of the future magnitude of his discovery. From the clothes we wear, the buildings in which we reside, and the food and water we ingest, PFCs are in virtually everything including our bodies and nearly all biota. Considering the many years that these compounds have been being used, it is difficult to fathom the extent of the territory they cover. Whether the means of transporting PFCs is deliberate or unintentional, solid evidence proves they have invaded nearly every crevice of the globe.
Since PFCs are anthropogenic compounds, it can be easily understood they do not belong in environments such as the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we ingest, or the bodies of humans and animals. Without fully understanding the extent of the adverse effects caused by perfluorinated compounds, it may be prudent to do everything possible to minimize or eliminate the use of these compounds. However, because PFCs have been used so extensively in so many processes in the manufacturing industry of both commercial and household products, it will be difficult to eliminate them completely.
The detrimental impact perfluorinated compounds may have on the environment, is not easily defined. Even with repeated studies, there are inconclusive findings. Many of the methods and materials used in experiments are in fact made from products containing perfluorinated compounds which could possible render results inconclusive. Containers, tubing, equipment may all contain PFCs. Lacking of standardization among the community of scientists may also pose problems and inconsistencies when studying PFCs. Many of the studies conducted, focus only on the PFOSs and PFOAs, when in fact there are numerous variations of pefluorinated chemicals/compounds. These numerous variations raise yet other questions. Should the individual PFCs be studied separately as they have been shown to manifest in different organs and serums having different effects and half-lives, or should they be studied in a manner that seeks out the combined effects?
The fact that PFCs tend to attach to proteins should be a major concern when considered health related issues. Proteins being the building blocks of our bodies, any misstep in the processes could present undesirable, and even detrimental effects. There is close attention being paid to potential immunotoxicity in children, as well as behavioral issues, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and neurodegenerative diseases that might point to PFCs playing a role.
The good news is that trends show a decrease in PFCs with regulations being set forth in stewardship programs such as the EPA Stewardship Program 2010/15, which began in 2006. The EPA invited eight major companies in to commit to a voluntary program with global goals to reduce manufacturing of PFCs (3M had begun phasing out the manufacturing of PFCs prior in 2000). A simplified version of this program is:
• By 2010 a 95% reduction in emissions and product with PFC content
• Commit to goals of elimination of PFOA, PFOA precursors and related chemicals/products
• Participating companies: Akema, Asahi, Ciba, Clariant, Daikin, DuPont, 3M/Dyneon, Solvay Solexis
• Reports from all companies (US and abroad) will be submitted on Oct. 31 of each year
More information on the stewardship program can be found at:http://epa.gov/oppt/pfoa/pubs/stewardship/index.htm.
The not so good news is countries such as China have no commitments at this time to stop production and have filled a niche in the market. Since so many of our products are produced in China, one might suspect that perfluorinated compounds are migrating to the US in way of imported food, clothing, and other products.
The PFCs that are in the environment now will not be easily remediated. Research is being conducted to find ways to help speed up the biodegrading processes. In humans however, compared to animals this half-life tends to be much longer and with ongoing exposure to the already present PFCs, it offers the possibility of continued bioaccumulation
There are efforts in exploring the remediation of perfluorinated compounds from the environment. Methods such as ultraviolent light and hydrogen peroxide have been used to enhance the biodegradability of PFCs (Quinete et. al. 2008), but these efforts have been met with minimal success. This strong carbon-fluorine bond which has made these compounds so attractive for so many uses, lending it thermal and chemical stability, are the very attributes that make them so menacing as well.
In addition to remediation efforts, substitute products are being introduced but are met by some, with skepticism as to whether they are just as pervasive or harmful as the previous products. The PFCs that are in the environment now, will not be easily remediated. Due to inconsistencies in analytical methods, variations in samples according to geographic location, possible negligible handling and/or the use of laboratory apparatus and containers which also may contain PFCs, their impact may never fully be known. One thing is certain however, additional and ongoing research is needed, along with standardization of analytical procedures to be able to fully understand and combat the problem of PFC pollution. It is probably more likely than not, that living in a PFC filled environment is our past, present, and future.