Eat for Health
Teflon non-stick Death
by Tammera J. Karr, PhD
If you are the cook in your family, you know how it feels to be in someone else’s kitchen or at a motel with a kitchenette and not have, those essential utensils to cook with that you are accustomed to. While in sin city, we were fortunate to stay in a hotel that was not a casino and did have a kitchen in our room. While this made our stay more bearable, the kitchenette was filled with Teflon coated pans and plastic serving utensils.
For home cooks like me, it was a visit to the haunted kitchen – the Spector’s of Teflon poisoning, radiation from the microwave, poisons in the water, the noise, smoke and lights…eeehhhhhh For those who are informed or nuts depending on how you look at it – it is scary what consumers are ingesting, and exposing themselves, pets and children to, not to mention the poor canaries.
Yup, the canary in your kitchen works just like those sent into a mine. When toxic chemicals are released from Teflon/non-stick cookware, bird lovers all over the country have reported their tweeties face planting in the bottom of the cage – dead as a door nail.
“The federal government announced in 2006, enough health concerns have been raised to virtually eliminate continued exposure to the key chemical used to make Teflon.” Evidence is piling up that emissions from the production of synthetic compounds in non-stick cookware, cleaning products, and a host of other common products may cause cancer and other health problems.
“Better things for better living — through chemistry.” From the 1940s to the 1980s, E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Co. wooed customers with that slogan, one of the most memorable in American advertising. But today, two groups of DuPont products developed during that era — fluorotelomers and fluoropolymers — are showing how chemical-dependent “better living” can come at a high price.
DuPont and other companies use those synthetic compounds to make an extraordinarily wide range of products, including nonstick cookware (e.g, Teflon), grease-resistant food packaging (e.g., microwave popcorn and pizza boxes), stain-resistant fabrics and carpets (e.g., Stainmaster), shampoos, conditioners, cleaning products, electronic components, paints, firefighting foams, and a host of other artifacts of modern life.
Teflon is a $2 billion-a-year business and one of the country’s best-known products. DuPont once called it the housewife’s best friend. However, like many “better things” produced by industrial chemistry, these products can have disastrous side effects.
In 2006, the federal government said DuPont had voluntarily agreed to eliminate by the year 2010 any new emissions of the key Teflon chemical from its factories.
Really did you hear about this in the news, get a recall postcard or see any warning labels?
Non-stick surfaces are metal pans (such as aluminum) coated with a synthetic polymer called polytetrafluoroetheylene (PTFE), also known as Teflon, a DuPont brand trademark.
Toxic fumes from the Teflon chemical released from pots and pans at high temperatures may kill pet birds and cause people to develop flu-like symptoms (called “Teflon Flu” or, as scientists describe it, “Polymer fume fever”). Some early studies have suggested that higher PFOA blood levels in humans may be linked with higher than normal cholesterol levels, thyroid disease, and reduced fertility.
Readers this is a real horror story, not a modern myth – how many Teflon pans do you own or coated product do you use, your kids and grand children? All for the sake of convenience, we have taken into our homes monsters.
Manufacturers’ labels often warn consumers to avoid high heat when cooking on Teflon. But EWG-commissioned tests conducted in 2003 showed that in just two to five minutes on a conventional stove top, cookware coated with Teflon and other non-stick surfaces could exceed temperatures at which the coating breaks apart and emits toxic particles and gases.
When reading through cancer risk information on the American Cancer Society’s website the following information caught my attention: Teflon itself is not suspected to cause cancer. PFOA may be more of a health concern because it can stay in the environment and in the human body for long periods of time. It seems to be present at very low levels in just about everyone’s blood. It’s not clear how people are exposed to it, although it has been detected at low levels in some foods and drinking water systems and in household dust.
The possible effects of PFOA on cancer risk in humans are not completely understood. Studies in lab rodents have found exposure to PFOA increases the risk of certain tumors of the liver, testicles, mammary glands, and pancreas in these animals.
Although DuPont has never conceded that PFCs might cause health or environmental problems, the company has bowed to relentless and rising public pressure in recent years and moved to rein in its emissions. But whatever action is taken at this point, a class of molecules that did not exist on the planet before the 20th century is now here to stay.
What are my choices?
Stainless steel is a terrific alternative to a non-stick cooking surface. Most chefs agree that stainless steel browns foods better than non-stick surfaces.
Cast iron remains a great alternative to non-stick cooking surfaces. Lodge, America’s oldest family-owned cookware manufacturer refers to its cookware as “natural non-stick.” Cast iron is extremely durable and can be pre-heated to temperatures that will brown meat and will withstand oven temperatures well above what is considered safe for non-stick pans.
Glass pans and baking dishes conduct heat efficiently and are easy to clean.
Stoneware is also very popular for backing on to achieve that perfect crust on breads and pizzas.
Beware of the scary monsters in your kitchen.