Trying to avoid non-stick cookware and appliances? You are not alone!
Ah, the ease of kitchen clean up with non-stick cookware. We consumers have all used or at least eaten food that was cooked on non-stick cookware. Consumers have been so accustomed to scrub free pots, pans and small kitchen appliances, some may not realize the possible health trade off for this convenience.
But in ever increasing numbers, many people are now becoming aware of the potential dangers and health risks associated with using non-stick surfaces thanks to reports from independent scientists who are advising the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) stating, "PFOA is a 'likely human carcinogen'".
PFOA, also known as C8 and C-8, is used as a processing aid for the manufacture of non-stick surfaces on cookware, protective finishes on clothing and carpets, and even on the weather resistant materials used under the exterior siding on homes. PFOA, which is one of many perfluorochemicals used in the manufacture of non-stick materials, has been found in drinking water, well water, rivers and streams. According to Globe and Mail, a division of Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc., PFOA and PFOS are found in almost every North American's body and are also found in almost every wildlife species that scientists have tested.
Canadian scientists have found high concentrations of PFOA in the tissues of seals and polar bears in the Arctic. PFOA has also been found in tropical birds and even dolphins. Canada will be the first country to ban these offending long-chain perfluorinated acids, which is one of the carbon-fluorine mixtures used in the manufacture of non-stick materials. The European Union is also considering a similar ban.
WTAP News and The Columbus Dispatch report that PFOA (C8) has been found in drinking water, ground water, and wells. Lawsuits have even been filed; for instance, a lawsuit filed in Salem County, NJ, where a resident stated the Chambers Works Plant released PFOA and other chemicals into the groundwater tapped by utilities. Little Hocking Water Association, a southeastern Ohio water company, filed a lawsuit, which states that chemicals, including C5, C6, C7, C9 and C10, were found in its water and in customers' blood, allegedly from the DuPont plant across the Ohio River from Little Hocking. DuPont disputes this allegation. And in Parkersburg, West Virginia, levels of C8 have been steadily rising, where just 4 years ago, no levels of C8 could be found at all in their water wells.
The Health Risks of PFOA and PFOS
The consequences from the perfluorochemicals, PFOA and PFOS, which make up non-stick materials, are reported to be vast and the health consequences are just now being reported. CBC News (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) states, "In North America, it has been widely reported, as many as 95 percent of all people have traces of the key ingredient in Teflon® - PFOA for perfluorooctanoic acid - in their bloodstream." Additionally, this compound, which has been linked (in very high doses) to health and reproductive problems in lab animals, can take decades or longer to be expelled from the body, according to CBC News. The CBC News article goes on to mention that it can take decades, even a lifetime, for humans to expel PFOA from their bodies, whereas animals can rid their bodies of this chemical in weeks.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) demonstrates why cooking in non-stick cookware can be hazardous to one's health; hazardous even to pets who never eat the food cooked in the cookware, but are exposed to the fumes. According to the EWG, DuPont said, "DuPont non-stick coatings will not begin to deteriorate until the temperature of the cookware reaches about 500 degrees F (260 degrees C), and significant decomposition of the coating will occur only when temperatures exceed about 660 degrees F (340 degrees C). These temperatures alone are well above the normal cooking range."
The 660-degree threshold has been DuPont's assertion that normal use, such as cooking with non-stick cookware, is safe. One may think that normal cooking would never reach temperatures of 660 degrees or higher; however, the Environmental Working Group has demonstrated that non-stick coated pans can exceed temperatures of 660 degrees during normal use. The EWG's testing demonstrates these non-stick pans exceeded 660 degrees in 3 to 5 minutes, on the different types of stoves used in testing (electric and gas), while the pan was on the burner at its highest heat setting. These findings read to me as the equivalent of stir-frying or braising in a non-stick coated pan on a high burner for 3-5 minutes.
EWG also reports that a demonstration for an episode of "20/20," which aired on November 14, 2003, suggested a pan can get hot enough to emit fumes that can cause flu-like symptoms when simply cooking a slice of bacon.
In Time Magazine's article "Is Teflon Risky?" DuPont acknowledges fumes from non-stick pans, caused from being heated over 660 degrees, can cause a reversible flu like condition called "polymer-fume fever."
The EWG also states that Teflon® can emit toxins at 446 degrees and warns that these toxic fumes from heated Teflon® can kill birds. The Environmental Working Group writes in their article "Teflon Kills Birds": "Under ordinary cooking scenarios, Teflon kills birds. A review of the literature and bird owners' accounts of personal experience with Teflon toxicosis shows that Teflon can be lethal at normal cooking temperatures, with no human lapses in judgment or wakefulness."
One of the "bird death" cases noted in this article was listed from non-stick coating fumes from a toaster: "Toaster oven with a non-stick coating was used to prepare food at a normal temperature; bird survived but suffered respiratory distress " Grahme 2003. "Teflon-related bird information." Email correspondence to Environmental Working Group. April 24 2003.
This got my attention because prior to reading this article, I was unaware that the inside of many slice toasters and toaster ovens are coated with a non-stick coating. I used to think the 'toaster smell' was the heating element or the plastic from the toaster or toaster oven; however,I now realize that the 'toaster smell' is most likely caused from a toaster's non-stick coating emitting fumes which can be toxic enough to kill birds.
Solution? Safer cookware alternatives?
In a nutshell: glass is best. Otherwise switch to stainless steel and cast iron. But what about those small appliances that we are all so attached to, such a rice cooker?
Many families use a rice cooker with a non-stick coating, not realizing there is an alternative. One of the most requested items our store features is a rice cooker that has a stainless steel inner bowl. If you love rice and other grains like I do, you know that other rice cookers on the market for home use have an inner cooking bowl made from aluminum and are often coated with non-stick material. The Miracle Stainless Steel Rice Cooker (Model ME-81) is the oasis for consumers who finally have found that they do not have to give up the convenience of using a rice cooker to avoid making rice in a non-stick rice cooker. We proudly feature a selection of stainless steel rice cookers and I personally use one almost daily.
On a personal note, replacing my home's non-stick cookware and appliances with stainless steel, glass and cast iron was quite an investment. But one of the best investments I can make is in my and my loved ones' health.
I hope you keep celebrating your good health!
 - Environmental Working Group; "Independent Science Panel to EPA: Teflon Chemical is 'Likely' Human Carcinogen" June 28, 2005, Contact: EWG Public Affairs, 202/667-6982
 - Forbes.com, Associated Press "Suit Alleges DuPont Contamination of Water" By RANDALL CHASE 04.19.2006
 - Coming to terms with perils of non-stick products; Toxic Shock, Part 2: After nearly five decades of use, some chemicals behind popular non-stick products linked to cancers, even deaths, in lab animals; by MARTIN MITTELSTAEDT
 - "Sticking it to Teflon", CBC News Online by Robert Sheppard
 - "Water district sues DuPont over chemicals besides C8" Wednesday, May 24, 2006; Spencer Hunt; THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
 - "C-8 Levels Rising";WTAP News; Todd Baucher
 - "Lawsuit targets PFOA from Chambers Works"; By JEFF MONTGOMERY The News Journal.
 - "Sticking it to Teflon", CBC News Online by Robert Sheppard
 - Environmental Working Group; "DuPont misleads consumers, intimidates pet bird owners and groups"
 - Environmental Working Group; Heated pans get toxic in minutes
 - Environmental Working Group; "Brian Ross reports on concerns that a key chemical used in the manufacture of Teflon® might pose health risks","20/20" episode aired on Friday 11/14/03.
 - Is Teflon Risky? Nonstick pots can emit nasty stuff if used incorrectly By MICHAEL D. LEMONICK
 - Environmental Working Group; "Teflon kills birds"