Teflon: Environmental and Health Concerns

Enviromental Damage Teflon

It is unlikely to go a day without seeing some mention of Teflon.  Teflon is a brand name for a man-made chemical known as polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), which has been in commercial use since the 1940s. It has a wide variety of applications because it can provide an almost frictionless surface. Most people are familiar with it as a non-stick coating surface for pans and other cookware, although it has also been used in medical procedures.

According to the findings of a 2006 Environmental Protection Agency scientific advisory panel, the primary chemical used to make Teflon -- perfluorooctanoic acid or PFOA -- is a "likely human carcinogen." As we explore these dangers, remember PFOA is used in the production of Teflon and PTFE is the final product.

Environmental Damage from Teflon?

DuPont, a large chemical company, offered a settlement of $670 million in 2017 for the impact their production of "Teflon" had in the contamination of water from their mid-Ohio facility.  The issue was the chemical PFOA that gives Teflon its miracle non-stick ability.  This contamination was ongoing for an extended, and the study on its effect on over 30,000 individuals began to be studied in 2005.  With the data collected over those ten years, in of May 2016, the EPA issued a health advisory after studies proved the chemical exposure could cause testicular cancer, kidney cancer, defects in unborn children, liver damage, thyroid disease, and ulcerative colitis.  Studies have shown that water systems in Louisville, Kentucky; Gallia County, Ohio; and Parkersburg, West Virginia have PFOA levels below the EPA guidelines, but higher than what most scientists in both the United States and European Union recommend for consumption.

Dangers of Teflon Cookware

""The link between Teflon cookware and cancer is an entirely different subject," says Robert Wolke, professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh and author of the two-part book series What Einstein Told His Cook. "There is no PFOA in the final Teflon product, so there is no risk that it will cause cancer in those who use Teflon cookware." What Wolke is not mentioning is that if Teflon cookware is overheated, another chemical PTFE breaks down into toxins, which are released in the air or leached into the food.

Experiments have shown that at low cooking temperatures Teflon is safe to use. But you must adhere to cooking below these temperatures: 350°C or 650°F. If you cook above it, the PTFE, which is bound in the Teflon coating can disintegrate, and harmful gases form that when inhaled are carcinogenic. The health effects of overheated Teflon may be severe.

The Environmental Working Group has documented several incidents where Teflon and the PTFE chemical was linked directly to the death in birds. In one instance it was cited that Teflon-coated drip pans in use for a Thanksgiving dinner were linked to the death of 14 birds in 15 minutes.  The cause of their death what identified as ""Teflon toxicosis."" In the 20th century, coal miners used canaries to act as an early warning sign for toxic gases, such as carbon monoxide. 'Let's take a lesson from that age and realize that if PTFE is causing toxicosis in birds, what is it doing to our bodies? 

PTFE in the Body

Products for medical implants created with PTFE or Teflon were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1995. Teflon was used to create a non-stick side of the mesh to prevent other tissues from sticking.  Studies have found that these implants with PTFE have larger pores are much more likely to be breeding grounds for bacteria.  In many cases, the bacteria grow quicker than antibiotics can kill the infection.  This results in surgeons needing to remove the implant, which results in its own series of complications.

Next Steps for You and Your Family

In the USA, PFOA has been recorded to have dropped in the environment by an estimated 40% over ten years as much production of Teflon has been moved overseas.  Even with that decline, it is essential to research the local water in your area to see what levels it has for any type of metal toxicity and making sure that it is within the recommended guidelines.  A big step you can take at home is avoiding take out containers coated with PFTE.  Cooking meals at home can prevent exposure to these toxins, primarily if you use cookware that is free from metals and other carcinogens.  Xtrema provides safe and healthy cookware for your family.  Healthy choices are our focus, both in and outside of the kitchen.