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Polyfluorinated and Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFCs)

Polyfluorinated and perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), also known as perfluorinated tensides (PFTs), are carbon chains of various lengths where the hydrogen atoms are either completely (perfluorinated) or partially (polyfluorinated) replaced with fluorine atoms. Since these compounds are very stable, products containing PFCs have a high degree of thermal and chemical stability and are repellant to dirt, staining, fat, oil, and water. Since 1966, this substance group has been used for numerous applications, such as inks, lacquers, lubricants, leather coatings, paper, and textiles, among others. In the 1960's, the American company 3M introduced the first foam extinguishing agent to the market (AFFF, or aqueous film forming foam), which contained perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) in order to achieve the desired properties that would allow the generation of water film.

There are very few differences in opinion concerning the usefulness of these com­pounds in the various fields of application. However, the potential danger of this class of substances makes it necessary to debate the usage of PFCs in technical fields.

PFCs do not naturally occur in the environment. Neither bacterial processes nor light, water, or air contribute to the decomposition of this substance group. Therefore, PFCs remain in the environment for a very long time and are spread globally through rivers, seas, and the air. PFCs have even been detected in ice and organisms in the Arctic. Disposal is currently only possible by incinerating the ma­terials at high temperatures with a flue gas purification system attached.

In 2009, at the Stockholm Convention (LINK), PFOS was defined as a "PBT-Sub­stance" (persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic) and added to the list of POPs (persistent organic pollutants). PFCs form bonds with proteins in the human body. In animal tests, they were shown to promote or cause cancer, and they are sus­pected of inhibiting reproduction. In 2010, the OSPAR commission (responsible for everything that is introduced into, sunk, or dumped into the North Sea or the North Atlantic), defined 17 PFCs that pose a threat to the aquatic and marine environment, which are widespread in one or more marine habitats and thus also pose a danger of being introduced into the food chain.

For years, the GBA Group has possessed expertise in the field of ana­lyzing PFCs as well as some substitutes, i.e. fluorotelomers, in matrices such as water, wastewater, soil, extinguishing foam, and biota. Contact us if you have any questions about this topic.

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