March 12, 2011

091 Non-Stick Pan Safety [29 November 2010]

We all use non-stick pans (Teflon©, Silverstone©, etc) because of their easy cleaning, plus the fact that they require less oil. The non-stick chemical, polytetrafluoroethylene, is also used in stain-repellant carpet and clothing (eg Scotchgard© and StainMaster©). We’ve also heard of some health concerns about their use. Just how serious are they?

There are two different concerns with non-stick pans. The first is perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) used in the production of the pan coatings. Studies have shown that lab animals exposed to high levels of this chemical suffer reproductive problems and develop liver, testicular, mammary and pancreatic cancers. Workers in the factories and people living nearby have been found to have higher than average levels of PFOA. Manufacturers like DuPont claim that no PFOA remains in the finished product, but how then can we explain trace amounts in over 95% of Americans. They insist there is no adverse health effects of PFOA on humans because the levels in most people are far below that of the lab animals tested. But the levels of some factory workers come too close for comfort. And no human testing for long term exposure has been done, so we really don’t know.

The other concern (and the more significant one for us) is the gases and particles given off during use of non-stick pans. At high temperatures (over 500F) fumes can cause temporary flu-like symptoms including headache, chills, fever and coughing. Even at normal cooking temperatures there are many reports of pet birds in the house dropping dead when no fumes are detectable by humans (remember the coal mine canaries?). Birds’ respiratory systems are more sensitive than ours, but it makes you wonder about long term affects of low exposures.

We use non-stick pans in our home, but at low temperatures only – no higher than #4 on the element dial. When a pan gets scratched or accidentally overheated, I confiscate it for sorting nuts and bolts in the garage. And we don’t have a pet bird.

This article is intended for educational purposes only; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

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