Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Wellness Wednesday

Teflon (scientific name:  polytetrafluoroethylene) was considered a miracle product when I was growing up.  I always thought it was a byproduct of the space program but turns out it was discovered in 1938 and was in use in industrial settings as a coating for metal bearings and gears.  In the 1960s it was approved for use on cookware.  Fast forward to 2012 and it is now found in the blood of 95% of all Americans.  Plastic in our blood; that can't be good for us.  Especially since an EPA advisory board has labeled this product as "likely carcinogenic"; and Dupont paid a settlement in a lawsuit for failure to disclose their knowledge of the "harm this chemical could cause."  Sounds like a roundabout way of saying this stuff is bad.  It does have the ability to kill birds that are in the room when Teflon pans are heated and it can cause flu-like symptoms in humans.  That doesn't sound like it's harmless.

Here's some technical information from a 1998 issue of The ASA Newsletter (Applied Science and Analysis, Inc.):

Perfluoroisobutene (PFIB, 1,1,1,3,3-penta fluoro-2-trifluoro methylpropene, CAS No. 3812-21-8) is a fluoro-olefin produced by thermal decomposition of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), e.g., Teflon [emphasis added].  Overheating of PTFE generates fumes of highly toxic PFIB and poses a serious health hazard to the human respiratory tract. PFIB is approximately ten times as toxic as phosgene [a nerve gas].  (Source)
Teflon offgasses at 446°F; a Teflon pan on an electric burner can reach over 700°F in three to five minutes.  So, it appears that a Teflon pan on a typical electric stove can offgass highly toxic PFIB, which is about 10 times more toxic than a nerve gas.  Here's an infographic on cooking temperatures and effects from the Environmental Working Group:
Once again, I expose my ignorance by sharing the fact that I thought this chemical had been banned.  Not true.  The EPA has asked Dupont to "phase out" Teflon; Dupont has said they'll reduce the amount produced by the year 2015.  So, it's not banned - and the EPA asking nicely to phase it out probably won't make a difference.  Besides, with 95% of us having it in our bodies already, it might be too little too late.

My recommendation:  avoid all use of pans with Teflon-like coatings.  Accept the fact that food can and will stick to pans but use natural oils and butters to help prevent this problem.  Much better than inhaling Teflon fumes or having it in your blood.


Deanna said...

I now only use stainless steel or my well-seasoned cast iron but it makes me angry that we were exposed to this for years without realizing it was potentially dangerous.

Sara said...

Hi Cherie -- I applaud the idea of creating a safer home, and because there's so much misinformation out there about the Teflon® brand, I'm not surprised that you are concerned. I'm a representative of DuPont though, and hope you'll let me share some information with you and your readers so that everyone can make truly informed decisions.

Regulatory agencies, consumer groups and health associations all have taken a close look at the Teflon® brand. This article highlights what they found -- the bottom line is that you can use Teflon® non-stick without worry.

I'd truly be glad to share additional information about it if you are interested, and appreciate your consideration of this comment. Cheers, Sara.