What are PFCs and How Do They Relate to Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs)?

Scientists use “PFCs” as an abbreviation for two distinct but related sets of chemicals. Whenever you see the abbreviation, make sure you understand how the author/publisher is using it.

“PFCs” can be an abbreviation for either:

Perfluorinated Chemicals

Perfluorinated chemicals is a term that some scientists use to refer to the group of toxic chemicals that includes PFOA and PFOS and other per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). Organizations that have used the abbreviation "PFCs", referring to perfluorinated chemicals, include U.S. EPA, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.N. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. EPA is now trying to use “per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs)” rather than "perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs)" consistently to collectively describe PFOA, PFOS and the other chemicals in this group.

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The other "PFCs" -- perfluorocarbons -- is a group of chemicals closely related to PFASs that share common features with PFASs:

  • Both perfluorocarbon and PFAS molecules contain fluorine and carbon atoms.
  • Both persist in the environment for long periods.
  • PFAS are not found naturally in the environment. The same is true for perfluorocarbons, with the exception that small amounts of one perfluorocarbon, carbon tetrafluoride, are emitted from granite.

Perfluorocarbons, however, are quite different from PFASs in significant respects:

  • Unlike PFAS molecules, which can include oxygen, hydrogen, sulfur and/or nitrogen atoms, perfluorocarbon molecules contain only carbon and fluorine atoms.
  • Perfluorocarbons are used in and emitted from different applications and industries than PFASs are.
  • The effects of perfluorocarbons on human health and the environment are substantially different than the effects of PFASs:
  • Perfluorocarbons are not toxic, and there are no direct health effects associated with exposures to them. The health effects and exposures information found on the Basic Information about PFASs page does not apply to perfluorocarbons.

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