Contrary to what DuPont Chemicals and companies manufacturing Teflon coated cookware would have you to believe, there are definite health risks associated with the use of Teflon coated cookware. Perhaps it is safe enough when used according to instructions, but accidents do happen. Not everyone reads and follows instructions to the letter. The safe alternatives to Teflon for nonstick cookware is baked enamel or porcelain cookware because these are safe at any temperature. Stainless steel and aluminum cookware are good choices too, of course they require the use of cooking oil to keep food from sticking. Well-seasoned cast-iron pots and pans are my pots and pans of choice because they are almost as nonstick as baked enamel or porcelain and with a little TLC they will last for many lifetimes.
Perflurooctanoic Acid is one of the main chemicals used in the Teflon manufacturing process. This chemical has been tied to cancers and birth defects in laboratory test animals. There is some evidence that it has led to birth defects in children born to DuPont plant workers. An independent study conducted for the Environmental Protection Agency in 2005 revealed that PFOA is a likely human carcinogen. Independent studies have shown that empty Teflon coated cookware releases PFOA when heated to 680°F (360°C). These temperatures are easily reached if an empty Teflon coated pot or pan is left on a lit stove burner. Of course, DuPont is quick to point out that this is an improper use of cookware.
Independent laboratory tests have shown that Teflon releases as many as fifteen different toxic gasses when heated to 680°F. This outgassing can be fatal to pet birds and cause "Polymer Fume Flu" which is also known as "Teflon Flu" in humans. The symptoms of Teflon Flu are much like the symptoms of regular flu - chills, headaches, fever and nausea. The symptoms of Teflon Flu subside and go away after a couple of days and most people who have been the victim of Teflon Flu mistake it for the flu.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) filed a petition with the EPA in 2003 against DuPont Chemicals for their eighteen year cover-up regarding what they knew the dangers being presented to their workers by their exposure to PFOA. Factory workers exposed to the chemical had extremely high levels of the man-made and indestructible chemical in their blood. The fetuses of two of the seven pregnant workers that took part in the DuPont study also showed elevated levels of PFOA in their blood supply. DuPont's own researchers linked PFOA to rare birth defects in animals. Two of the seven pregnant workers at DuPont's West Virginia plant gave birth to children with a very similar type of serious birth defect. The EPA fined DuPont Chemicals $16.5 million in December of 2005 for their failure to report the dangers presented by the chemical PFOA.
Perfluorinated chemicals, also known as "Teflon Chemicals" are a group of related chemicals also used in manufacturing non-stick cookware. Another related chemical, fluorotelomers, is used in non-stick food packaging. All of these related chemicals break down into PFOA in the environment and in the human blood stream but the resulting PFOA does not break down, it continues to build up in the environment and in the blood stream.
DuPont would have you believe that the danger of outgassing does not exist below 680°F, when, in fact, independent studies conducted by the EWG, reveals that outgassing really begins at 396°F (202.2°C), almost 300°F below what DuPont stated.
If you must use Teflon Coated cookware follow these safety tips:
First, do not preheat any Teflon coated pot or pan.
Second, use them with only low or medium heat settings.
Third, use caution to never allow cooking oils or food to burn during the cooking process
Preheating the pans, using a high heat setting or allowing food and oils to burn exacerbates the outgassing process.
To be really safe you should cast out the Teflon coated pots and pans and invest in one of the good alternatives, like baked enamel or porcelain. For the more experienced cook, investing in stainless steel and cast iron is the way to go.
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