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Perfluorocarbons (PFCs)


SPRI Emission Reporting Threshold
10.0 Kg/yr Pollutant Emissions to Air
This sheet is a generic summary, designed to give the reader a basic level of background information about the substance in question. Great care has been taken to represent as effectively and correctly as possible the broad range of (not necessarily consistent) information which is available from a variety of sources. The reader must accept therefore that this sheet has no legal status and cannot be relied upon in any legal proceedings. SEPA disclaims any responsibility or liability whatsoever for errors and omissions in this sheet.
What is it?
PFCs are a group of man-made chemicals containing just the two elements carbon and fluorine. Under normal environmental conditions they are generally colourless, odourless, nno-flammable, unreactive gases.
What is it used for?
The main use of PFCs is in the electronics sector (manufacture of semi-conductors) and as refrigerants. They are also occasionally used as environmental tracer gases, in fire extinguishers and for some cosmetic and medical applications.
Where does it come from?
The main releases of PFCs to the environment occur during the manufacture of semi-conductors, refrigeration equipment and the production of aluminium. There are no natural sources of PFCs.
How might it affect the environment?
PFCs are not considered likely to harm the environment in the vicinity of their release. On a global scale however, they are greenhouse gases contributing to global warming. They have extremely high "global warming potentials" (5000-10000 times that of carbon dioxide), but do not contribute particularly significantly to global warming because of the small amounts released. PFCs can persist in the atmosphere for up to thousands of years.
How might exposure to it affect human health?
At environmental concentrations, PFCs are not harmful to human health. Levels of PFCs have however been found in the blood of people it is thought were exposed through the use of non-stick cooking implements. It is known how this may affect health in the long term. Exposure to very high concentrations following an accidental release or in occupational settings could damage the brain or heart.
What steps are being taken to limit the potential impacts?
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Kyoto Protocol, 1997) introduced measures designed to achieve reduction of greenhouse gas releases (including PFCs). Amongst the other signaturies from around the world, the UK government (including Scotland) is committed to reaching targets of reduction of PFC emissions by 2008-2012.