The next time you find yourself standing in front of your stove, think twice about using that nonstick pan.
In just two or three minutes of preheating, your pan will give off fumes that can make you sick. Each time you use medium to high heat on an empty pan, the surface on Teflon-coated and other nonstick cookware breaks apart and emits a toxic chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, according to the Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C., organization that investigates issues of environmental health and safety.
Studies have shown that PFOA is present at low levels in 9 out of 10 Americans, and in the blood of most newborns. In one study, of 600 children tested, 96 percent had PFOA in their blood. Animal studies strongly suggest that when enough PFOA builds up in the body, it can cause cancer, liver damage, growth defects and immune-system damage.
For 50 years, DuPont, the manufacturer of Teflon, has said that its coatings do not emit hazardous chemicals through normal use. But recent DuPont studies, reported by the Environmental Working Group, show that at high temperatures (more than 500 degrees Fahrenheit) Teflon (and similar nonstick coatings) releases at least six toxic gases, including two carcinogens, two global pollutants and MFA (monofluoroacetic acid), a chemical lethal to humans at low doses. At temperatures that DuPont scientists say are reached on stovetop drip pans, nonstick coatings break down to a chemical-warfare agent known as PFIB, and a chemical analogue of the World War II nerve gas phosgene. The environmental group warns that the coatings break down at just 325 degrees Fahrenheit or at a medium flame.
As a result of this new data, the group has petitioned the Consumer Product Safety Commission to require that cookware and heated appliances having nonstick coatings carry a warning label. So far, the government has not assessed the safety of nonstick cookware and therefore there are no warning labels.In the meantime, a number of lawsuits against DuPont are pending. One of the latest suits comes from Miami, where attorneys hope to win compensation for “almost every American that has purchased a pot or pan coated with DuPont’s nonstick coating.”
DuPont was fined by the Environmental Protection Agency for allegedly hiding data for years on the toxicity of PFOA, and also for contaminating the Ohio River drinking-water supply near its West Virginia plant.Avian veterinarians have known for decades that Teflon off-gases are a leading cause of death among birds, and estimated that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of birds are killed each year.
Like the canaries that were used in the coal mines, birds act as an early warning system for humans. The EPA recommends that bird owners avoid cookware and heated appliances with nonstick coatings completely. Perhaps everyone should be heeding this warning.
While you can choose whether or not to use Teflon pans, there is no way for you to tell if food containers and packaging contains PFOA. In one frightening example, the Food and Drug Administration has looked at microwavable popcorn packaging and found that PFOA is not only present but also that it gets into the oil from the packaging during heating.You may want to microwave your popcorn in a plain brown bag instead. DuPont also makes a Teflon silicone lubricant aerosol spray used to waterproof, protect and preserve rubber, plastic, vinyl, leather, metal and wood. One can only imagine how those particles are ending up in our lungs.In January 2006, DuPont agreed to an EPA plan to phase out PFOA by the year 2015.
In the meantime, start thinking about alternatives: Try switching to stainless steel — most chefs agree that it browns foods better than nonstick surfaces.
Cast iron is another great alternative to nonstick. It is extremely durable and can now be purchased seasoned and ready to use. There are also ceramic titanium and porcelain enameled cast iron. Both of these surfaces are very durable, better at browning foods than nonstick coatings, and are dishwasher safe.Anodized aluminum is another choice, but some people question its safety, citing evidence in some studies linking aluminum exposure to Alzheimer’s disease.
If you’re thinking about Calphalon, be aware that the nonstick coating used in Simply Calphalon cookware is not Teflon, but is made by ExxonMobil, and uses the same chemical compound as Teflon.
If you can’t bring yourself to toss out every Teflon-coated pan in your kitchen, at least manage your use of it carefully by making sure your kitchen is well ventilated and do the following: Never preheat on high; never leave nonstick pans unattended on an open flame or other heat source; don’t use metal utensils; wash by hand using nonabrasive cleaners and sponges (no steel wool); don’t stack pans; keep pet birds out of the kitchen.
At first, I must admit, I was resistant to giving up my nonstick omelet pan. Every time I tried making eggs in a stainless steel pan they would stick to the bottom. But I persisted, and after some playing around with the timing of preheating and using of a bit more butter or oil than I was used to, I discovered I could make the perfect omelet.
For more Information on Teflon and PFOA:– Is Teflon Chemical Toxic? EPA Seeks Answers, www.webmd.com/content/article/99/105222.htm– For cookware reviews: www.consumersearch.com/www/kitchen/cookware/fullstory.html– Information on the DuPont lawsuit: www.ewg.org/news/story.php?id=5264– Microwave popcorn and PFOA: pubs.acs.org/subscribe/journals/esthag-w/2005/nov/science/rr_popcorn.html– For the most recent information from the Associated Press/USA Today regarding the DuPont class action lawsuit: stocks.usatoday.com/custom/usatoday-com/html-story.asp?guid=%7BCD3970B9%2DF081%2D4E8F%2D8519%2D64206A826F5E%7D– For information on Teflon polluting the Mississippi River, go to www.organicconsumers.org/rd-pfc.cfm