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What Are PFCs, And Where Can You Find Them?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The state of Minnesota is suing 3M, saying the company dumped chemicals years ago that ultimately caused cancer, infertility and low birthweight in babies. The state says the chemicals, which included PFCs, contaminated the groundwater in some East metro communities. Attorneys for 3M say the chemicals compounds in question present no harm to human health.

So, what are PFCs? Good Question.

PFC stands for perfluorochemicals. They are a big family of man-made compounds that have been used to make consumer products for decades. They can travel long distances through soil, water and air and have been found far away from where they are used. They are stable chemicals that have been found in the blood of humans and animals across the world.

Because PFCs can repel both water and oil, they are put into products like nonstick cookware, fast food wrappers and stain-resistant clothing and carpet.

PFCs are also referred to as PFAS, which includes a larger group of chemicals. There are several types of PFCs, including perflouroocatanic acid (PFOS) and perflourooctane sulfanate (PFOA) — which carry longer carbon chains and can stay in the body for several years. PFOS and PFOA have essentially been banned from the U.S. for more than a decade. They can still be found, though, in air, water, soil and blood.

(credit: Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

A new PFC with four carbons is now used in consumer products. That chemical does not build up nearly as much in the body.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), scientists are not yet sure of the possible health effects of human exposure to PFCs. Studies in laboratory animals have shown some effect on the liver, thyroid and pancreatic functions, but it's difficult to extrapolate those findings to humans. The CDC reports some human studies have shown certain PFCs can affect child development, decrease fertility and increase cancer risk.

Still, the CDC writes, "At this time, there is not enough information to evaluate the health effects of exposures to mixtures of PFAS."

The Minnesota Department of Health has developed safe drinking water guidance values for several PFCs. It also regularly tests public water supplies for contaminants and works with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to investigate cases where private wells could be affected by groundwater contamination.

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