CAN NONSTICK COOKWARE BE TOXIC…

Updated: Sep 1, 2021

A coffee morning discussion about what is good for kids and what is not got us talking about nonstick cookware and I realized how much perplexity there is around this topic. This is something at the back of our minds, but many of us don't know its real scope.


Most also lack awareness about other possible healthy options that we can replace nonstick cookware with.


What is nonstick coating made of?

Nonstick coating is made of a plastic substance called PTFE also famously called Teflon which is the brand that patented PTFE for the first time. It is a thermoplastic meaning it can be melted back if heated too much. PFAS are a group of chemicals that are used to make non-stick, stain and water-resistant cookware, carpets, furniture and food packaging. The one used in making nonstick(PTFE) cookware is called PFOA.


What is Teflon flu?

If a nonstick cookware item is heated too much (at 600 Degrees F) it starts releasing toxic fumes causing flu like symptoms in humans characterized by fever, shivering, sore throat and weakness which can last for three days. In case of pet birds, exposure to these toxic fumes from kitchens causes swelling and bleeding in their respiratory organs leading to death. Pet birds must be kept away from Teflon fumes as they have very sensitive respiratory systems and have got killed on several occasions.


PFOA is a toxic chemical

Nonstick cookware manufacturers have been in the news due to suspected harmful effects of PFOA exposure on those working in the factories. Birth deformities have been linked to mothers being exposed to PFOA during pregnancy. It can have harmful effects on developing fetus and breastfeeding infants or cause low infant birth weights.


When PFOA settles in our body it can stay there for long periods of time lasting for years. PFOA is found in varying concentrations in ground water around the world. It is readily water soluble, does not stick to sediments or soil easily and does not degrade easily. Once it enters our drinking water source it is not easy to get rid of it either. It has been found in fish, drinking water sources and is also present in majority of our bodies in small amounts. Continued exposure in even small concentrations will put burden on our bodies and result into ill effects.


PFOA was classified ‘likely to be carcinogenic in humans’ by USEPA Science Advisory Board. Animal studies have shown that PFOA exposure could lead to tumors, have damaging effect on liver, reproductive system, immune system and neural system. We will have to go by animal studies as human studies are very difficult in this area. Also, I doubt there are any humans not exposed to PFOAs to compare the results with.


What about the popular argument that finished product does not contain PFOA?

Some believe that PFOA is burned off during manufacturing of PTFE cookware and is either absent or present in very small proportions in the finished products, but scientific research indicates otherwise. Research shows that PFOA is not only present, but it is even transferred to food cooked in it. The harm is done during manufacturing process to people who handle it and to the environment and continues throughout the life span of these products.


Have you come across ‘PFOA FREE’ flashing on nonstick cookware in supermarkets?

PFOA was phased out from the cookware industry as people became more aware of its toxicity and bio accumulation. Unfortunately, it is replaced by a similar chemical called Gen X which is also supposed to be harmful for our bodies. Manufacturers will come up with a plethora of catchy lines, but it is mostly all marketing.


Suggestions

  • Minimize or even eliminate the use of nonstick products as much as possible in order to reduce their demand in the market and thus control the pollutants going to our air, water and soil. Thousands of tons of PFOA has got to the environment in the past years and we can control it from happening any further.

  • Look for dishes where you are using a nonstick pan unnecessarily. You could easily boil that soup in a steel cookware, stir fry veggies in an iron wok and cook rice in a steel or even a seasoned mud pot.

  • A well-seasoned cast iron pan is nearly as nonstick, provided we pay attention and don’t overheat it. Food quickly sticks to an iron pan if the pan is too hot. Season it well and then take a few trials. Cut onion dipped in oil if used to season the cast iron pans, it works wonders as onion has a compound that helps the cast iron pans become non sticky! Find that sweet spot when you can spread your pancake or dosa batter onto it after giving it enough time to heat on medium or medium high flame. The advantage is, that you will get food enriched with a bit of iron instead of harmful chemicals being leached into it.

  • Never overheat empty nonstick cookware ever. If you accidentally overheat a PTFE pot or pan, then DO NOT hold it under cold running water to cool it down quickly. As soon as overheated pan comes in contact with water, the surface of the pan will give out significant toxic vapors which you might inhale. Let it cool in an open space instead.

  • Know your surroundings. If drinking water source in your locality is likely to be contaminated by any type of PFAS then regular drinking water filters are not enough. Granular activated carbon filters can aid in filtering PFAS. PFAS are also used in manufacturing products like nailpaints, electricals, pipelines and many more. (Is not applicable to the UAE.)

So stay informed and stay safe…


References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3276392/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/perfluorooctanoic-acid

https://toxtown.nlm.nih.gov/chemicals-and-contaminants/perfluorooctanoic-acid-pfoa

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22560884

https://omnexus.specialchem.com/selection-guide/polytetrafluoroethylene-ptfe-fluoropolymer https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/polytetrafluoroethylene https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/teflon-and-perfluorooctanoic-acid-pfoa.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28913736

https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4620589-EFSA-PFOS-and-PFOA-Draft.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4544973/

https://nepis.epa.gov/Exe/ZyPDF.cgi/P100EIVC.PDF?Dockey=P100EIVC.PDF


Written by Prajakta Chiplunkar & Compiled by Pallavi Santhapuram


Disclaimer: The information within this article are researched and compiled from the references provided. THE ECO LOOP and the author is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article. All information is provided on an as-is basis from the author. The suggestions or opinions appearing in the article are just the authors views. THE ECO LOOP does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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