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What you need to know about perfluorinated chemicals, aka PFCs

water going into cup from faucet
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
The first priority to ensure you're safe from the negative effects of PFCs, said Environmental Working Group senior scientist David Andrews, is to check the quality of your home water supply.

Grayling water officials announced in July they had found trace amounts of perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, in the municipal water supply. The levels are nowhere near the concentration of PFCs considered to be a health hazardby the Environmental Protection Agency.

David Andrews, senior scientist with the nonprofit Environmental Working Group spoke with Stateside to help us understand this mysterious family of chemicals and explore exactly what the news means for the Grayling area.

PFCs are entirely man-made chemicals, Andrews said. Useful for repelling grease and water, they're found in a myriad of consumer and industrial products such as carpets, furniture, and clothing. Because of the nature of the chemical bond, Andrews said, PFCs don't break down easily, even after direct exposure to natural elements.

"The contamination that's currently out there may have been released into the environment decades ago," Andrews said. "There's pretty much universal contamination from the first generation of these chemicals released over the last four or five decades. Nearly everyone has some in their body and in their blood."

PFCs are particularly useful in products used to extinguish fires, and much of the contamination in the environment comes from airfields or airports and the training facilities associated with them. The products that contained PFCs were used for firefighting training, but after they were used, the chemical leached into the ground and later contaminated drinking water, Andrews said.

Michigan Radio reported in July that firefighting foam used at Camp Grayling, a nearby National Guard training center, has contaminated some private drinking wells in the region with PFCs, but that plume isn't in the same area as the City of Grayling's wells.

Andrews and host Lester Graham also discuss health risks for those exposed to PFCs, how use of the chemical has changed over time, and what the EPA says about how local governments and individual households should handle PFC contamination.

Listen to the full conversation above.

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