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Teflon Finds Itself in Sticky Situation

Little did the scientist who accidentally invented Teflon over 65 years ago realize the impact it would have in the modern kitchens of today. Despite its popularity, Teflon has recently been getting some media attention it never intended to get, as traces of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical used to make Teflon, has been showing up in people and animals around the world. In fact, it was discovered in the blood of 96 percent of children tested in 23 states.

Although Teflon itself is not PFOA (C8),PFOA is used to manufacture Teflon and is released to the air, along with other PFCs, when Teflon cookware is heated to broiling temperatures.

Scientists are searching for how this chemical is getting into people and haven't yet determined how harmful it is to humans. However, they did confirm a link between Teflon and liver and developmental problems in rats.

DuPont Tries to Keep the Lid Closed on PFOA Cases

  • DuPont agreed to pay at least $108 million to settle a lawsuit brought forth by residents living near a company plant in West Virginia, where PFOA had been found in the drinking water.
  • The EPA accused DuPont of failure to disclose certain health-related information regarding PFOA dating as far back as 1981.

In response to these accusations DuPont claims that they haven't broken any laws and have sharply decreased emissions of PFOA.

Scientists are searching to find out how PFOA gets into the people to begin with. Speculations over the PFOA sources include the water, the air and dust from vacuuming stain-resistant carpets.

Common Household Products That Could Contain PFCs

  • Non-stick pans
  • Cosmetics
  • Household cleaners
  • Packaged food containers

Environmental Concerns and PFOA

Chemical companies like DuPont aren't required by law to monitor or report emissions of PFOA because lack of regulation of the chemicals.
Companies have provided only partial estimates to the EPA. These reports have shown that tons of PFOA have been released annually as air and water pollution from DuPont and 3M plants in:

  • West Virginia
  • North Carolina
  • Minnesota
  • Alabama

I find it absolutely amazing that companies can develop chemicals that essentially persist forever in our environment and not be held to a higher level of accountability to the chemicals' effects on our health.

One should certainly not heat Teflon to high temperatures, and it seems wise to potentially avoid this material all together. Similarly, I recommend avoiding stainless steel because of the potential aluminum toxicity that has been linked to Alzheimer's disease. Although aluminum pots are probably less problematic than other sources of aluminum like drinking water and antiperspirants , I personally would not use aluminum cookware.

Environmental Working Group

The Seattle Times October 1, 2004

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