Perfluoroalkyl acids are a family of perfluorinated compounds used for many different purposes. Included in this group are chemicals such as PFOS and PFOA (also known as C8). These acids are some of the most common pollutants in our bodies and in the environment, as they are often found in water and food, as well as in our homes.
Some of the chemicals in this group are particularly persistent. They are used for non-stick pans, hair products, food wrap, carpet cleaning products, fireproof foams, floor polishes, lubricants and in some fabrics, upholstery, carpets and paints (because of their water-resistant and stain-proof properties), pesticides and industry surfactants and emulsifiers.
Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluoroctanoate (PFOA) are two of the most researched chemicals, and have been included in Appendix B of the Stockholm agreement on persistent organic pollutants. Once some risks regarding their usage wexre known, they were emitted from some products and other chemicals in the group were used in place. However, possible problems have been detected with some of the chemicals used as substitutes which belong to this same group of compounds. This is sometimes because their deterioration can cause PFOS or PFOA, or because of the problems that these alternative chemicals can cause themselves.
The health risks associated with some common perfluoroalkyl acids are diverse, and include various forms of cancer. Animal studies have detected effects on the liver, the immune system, growth and development, sexual organs etc.
For the general public, who are exposed to daily concentration levels across the population, correlations have been found between these chemicals and other changes in our body.
There has been shown to be a link between levels of some of these chemicals and thyroid problems. They have also found that the presence of some of these chemicals is linked to problems in women conceiving, low birth weight as well as a smaller head circumference at birth, ADHD, lipid metabolic conditions (e.g. high levels of cholesterol), liver enzyme imbalances etc.
They have also found an effect which is known as “polymer fume fever”, which is caused by the fumes that are emitted when products containing Teflon etc. are heated to more than 300°C.