Dangers of Teflon

dangers of teflon

Understanding Teflon

Teflon is the brand name (Teflon itself is not a chemical) for a man-made chemical called Polytetrafluoroetheylene (PTFE), a polymer that is used for cookware and other non-stick applications. PTFE is a type of perfluorinated compound (PFC). PFCs are a family of fluorine-containing chemicals that have unique properties to make materials stain and stick resistant. During manufacturing, Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is used to bond PTFE coating to pots and pans, making them non-stick.

What products contain Teflon?

Teflon can be found in non-stick pots and pans, waterproof clothing and furniture, self cleaning ovens, microwave popcorn bags, pizza boxes and more. 

The Dangers of Teflon

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), "The chemical PFOA pollutes over 95% of Americans' blood, including all 10 newborns surveyed in a study EWG commissioned in 2007. It has also been found in the blood of marine organisms and Arctic polar bears.  On top of that, PFOAs never breaks down in the environment, so every molecule of it produced since the 1950s or earlier will forever be in our air, water and bodies. Studies by Environmental Health Perspectives have shown links from high levels of PFOA to higher rates of thyroid disease.

The EPA released a draft risk assessment on perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which is used in the production of PTFE, stating that it was “likely to be carcinogenic.”  PFOAs have also been detected in some drinking water supplies.

What exactly is harmful about Teflon in pots and pans? (i.e. a non-stick surface)

Non-stick surfaces are metal pans (such as aluminum pans) that are coated with the synthetic polymer PTFE i.e. Teflon. Manufacturer labels often warn consumers to avoid high heat when cooking on Teflon. But really, how do most people know exactly when the temperature of the pan is too high of heat! In 2003, an EWG-commissioned test 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. 

The toxic fumes released from heated teflon-coated pans (at medium to high temperatures) can cause enough air pollution to kill a pet bird! When people breathe these same fumes they can develop flu-like symptoms called "Teflon Flu."

What is being done about PFOAs?

The long-term effects of PFOAs and other similar chemicals are largely unknown, but there is enough of a concern to prompt an attempt to phase out PFOAs.  In early 2006, the EPA and the 8 manufacturers (only a handful of companies use these chemical) who use PFOA agreed to a "stewardship program." The goals of this program are for these companies to reduce factory emissions and product content levels of PFOA by 95% by the year 2010, and to eliminate PFOA from emissions and product contents by 2015. The companies will submit annual reports on their progress to the EPA.

What can you do?

The goods news about Teflon is that it can be easily avoided when it comes to pots and pans.

  • Look for pots and pans made from cast iron, stainless steel, ceramic, glass, or lined copper. All of which are considered safe alternatives.
  • Avoid buying new pots and pans with conventional nonstick coatings and ditch any old pans where the coating is beginning to peel or wear.
  • Avoid all synthetic non-stick surfaces, even beyond the Teflon brand - "teflon free, non-stick pans" often still contain PFOAs, just not under the Teflon brand name.
  • Prioritize getting cookware that will be safe the way your family uses it. (Glass baking dishes are great for the dishwasher dependent and cast iron is great for those who want to be able to take their pan from stove to oven.)

At MightyNest we sell pots and pans that are easy to maintain and are a safer, healthier alternative.