Fluorinated polymers have become a great danger in the environment and are thought to cause cancer in man. Their ubiquitous presence is seen in microwave popcorn bags, stain-free carpets, fast-food wrappers, denture cleaners, windshield washer fluid.
Scott Mabury, at the University of Toronto had led a team which has investigated the effect of these chemicals for the past five years. These fluorinated polymers degrade and eventually become a group of nasty chemicals called PFCAs for perfluorocarboxylates.
PFCAs are detected in the human blood, in household air and dust and in heavier concentrations in the blood of polar bears and seals in the Arctic, thousands of kilometers from any possible industrial source. The fact that the concentration in seals are doubling every five years is very disturbing.
PFCAs are linked to cancer and other developmental effects in animal experiments, and are expected to persist in the soil and elsewhere for hundreds of years.
In Canada, the federal government in 2004 banned four new fluorinated polymers.
Environment Canada is holding a consultation among PFCA experts from industry, environmental groups, government and the universities to discuss and clamping down the issue on existing fluorinated polymers.
Bernard Madé, who directs Environment Canada's office, said that action should be taken against the spread of fluorinated polymers and hence a voluntary action by the industry or imposing controls through government regulations should be done fast.
Environment Canada proposed that substances containing fluorinated polymers degrade slowly and release fluorotelomer alcohols. These alcohols can be transported by the wind over long distances where they further reduce to form the PFCAs.
Mabury and fellow U of T chemist Mary Joyce Dinglasan-Panlilio published a paper in the American Chemical Society. They said that during their study which involved the testing of six consumer and industrial products such as carpet stain repellents and windshield washer fluid, they found levels of the fluorotelomer alcohols as high as 4 per cent.
Hence the researchers said that the products themselves were the source of pollution and turning the residual tap will solve the pollution problem of chemicals in the Arctic.
It was found that the annual emissions of at least 100,000 kilograms of fluorotelomer alcohols resulted in substantial amount of the PFCAs being found in the Artic.
Tom Harner, an Environment Canada research scientist in Downsview, said that they are called as domestic Persistent Organic Pollution (POPs) because there are many sources in the home.
In the winter of 2002-2003, Harner and colleagues found that there was an increase in the brominated flame retardants in Ottawa. They also found a type of fluorinated polymers known as FOSEs, whose concentrations were 10 to 20 times higher than in the outdoor air.
Researchers say that ocean currents are responsible for transporting fluorinated polymers that were dumped by factories previously. But Mabury says that it is through the air that the compound spreads and had reached the Arctic.