You might have heard that Teflon kills birds, wondered exactly how a pan or pot could take a birdâ€™s life and then moved on. Now is the time to stop, read this and really understand whatâ€™s in your Teflon pan...
The Green Facts About Teflon:
Whatâ€™s in it?
Teflon, made by DuPontâ€™s, and other non-stick pots and pans are manufactured with many, many chemicals, among which PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), also known as C8 (because it has 8 carbon atoms).Â PFOA belongs to a class of industrial chemicals known as PFCâ€™s (perfluorochemicals ), which are water, grease and stain repellents. These chemicals are not friendly or even innocuous: they are linked to smaller birth weight and size in newborn babies, abnormal thyroid hormone levels, elevated cholesterol, as well as weaker immune defense against disease, among others. And they remain in the body and in the environment (our water included) for decades.
What happens in our kitchen?
When the pot or pan is heated, these chemicals break apart to form several particulates and gases that are released into the air and food. These gases are known to be toxic and carcinogenic and are the reason for the bird poisonings (also known as Teflon Toxicosis in which the lungs of exposed birds fill up with fluid and hemorrhage) and have been causing cancer and tumors in rats in laboratory studies for the past 50 years â€¦and DuPont has known all along.
DuPont has claimed that their cookware is safe, as long as normal cooking temperatures are not exceeded. But that is the tricky part. You would need to only and always cook on low or medium heat, and never heat up your pot dry. In reality, things are very different. As EWG Ken Cook says, "We're still searching for the person who has never left a pan on a stove top and had it get real hot." We, at JustLiveGreener, admit to having damaged a Teflon frying pan so badly that the coating peeled off into little bits. And what about bakeware? Temperatures easily reach above 400 Â° F in the oven; 464Â° is the lowest temperature at which Teflon particles have been measured. No need to mention the broiler.
Why we should care
Exposure to these fumes can cause polymer fume fever, which symptoms are remarkably similar to the common cold: headache, cough, chills, temperatures between 100 and 104Â°F, and sore throat. It can also be accompanied by tightness in the chest, shortness of breath and even malaise. DuPontâ€™s own scientists have concluded that polymer fume fever in humans is possible at 662Â°F and the company has agreed to stop using PFOA in their products by 2015, under a voluntary EPA program.Â However, meanwhile, the company continues to assert that their pots and pans are safe to use. Can you smell greenwashing?
What we can do
Many common brands use PFCs to manufacture their non-stick cookware, including Farberware, Emerilware, Calphalon, All Clad, and more. Simply refrain from purchasing their cookware, and opt for an alternative (see our article on Â Green Cookware Alternatives). If you already own several pieces of non-stick cookware, make sure to always use low heat and phase them out progressively. You can actually recycle these pots and pans at a metal recycling business.
Also, these chemicals are not just in DuPontâ€™s pots and pans: PFCs are in food wrap, carpeting, furniture and clothing. Next time you see the trade names Teflon, Scotchguard, Stainmaster and Goretex, know that they contain PFCs and restrain yourself from purchasing their products. Always look for an alternative first. PFCs are even used in manufacturing processes such as industrial surfactants and emulsifiers. Scan labels for the words â€œPTFEâ€ or â€œperfluoroâ€ and discard the product if you see them. Consult EWGâ€™s Skin Deep cosmetic database to know which brands are safe (and which ones arenâ€™t).
Changing our consumerist habits one at a timeâ€¦
To find out more about studies done on the toxic effects of PFCs on our bodies, go to universityofcalifornia.edu/news/article/19421
To find out more about birds dying (also known as Teflon Toxicosis): www.ewg.org/node/8299
To find out more about heated Teflon cookware and temperatures, read â€œTeflon canâ€™t stand the heatâ€ and â€œTeflon pans can create a sticky situation when overheatedâ€.Â
To find out more about PFCs and how to avoid them, read EWGâ€™s guide.