A chemical used to make Teflon somehow got into the blood of everybody on earth. How did it get there? What does this mean for our health?
Teflon is used everywhere. Odds are it’s touching you right now, if you are near any carpet covered with Stainmaster, are wearing any Gore-Tex, or are eating from something cooked in Teflon or Silverstone.
The chemical is PFOA, (Perfluorooctanoic Acid) sometimes called C-8. It’s used to make Teflon – made by DuPont — and many, many other products. But DuPont says PFOA is used only during the manufacturing process and that there’s no PFOA in Teflon cookware or other Teflon products.
PFOA is also formed as an unintended byproduct in the production of fluorotelomers and is present in finished goods treated with fluorotelomers, including those intended for food contact. Fluorotelomers are applied to food contact papers because they prevent oil from soaking into the paper from fatty foods.
PFOA gets into the environment during the manufacturing process. But people who live nowhere near PFOA manufacturing sites have PFOA in their blood. PFOA is present in most people’s blood in this country and beyond; it’s even in wildlife. How that happened, and what it means for our health, is a mystery.
So much for a healthy home-cooked meal. The recent identification of a chemical in Teflon as a “likely carcinogen” might make you feel as if we’re simmering in a toxic stew.
Used to make nonstick Teflon pans, waterproof clothing, and even pizza-box liners, PFOA has long been on scientists’ watch list. The reason: It causes liver cancer in lab rats.
PFOA persists indefinitely in the environment. It is a toxicant and carcinogen in animals. PFOA has been detected in the blood of more than 98% of the general US population in the low and sub-parts per billion range, and levels are higher in chemical plant employees and surrounding subpopulations. Exposure has been associated with increased cholesterol and uric acid levels, and recently higher serum levels of PFOA were found to be associated with increased risk of chronic kidney disease in the general United States population, consistent with earlier animal studies. “This association was independent of confounders such as age, sex, race/ethnicity, body mass index, diabetes, hypertension, and serum cholesterol level.”
How general populations are exposed to PFOA is not completely understood. PFOA has been detected in industrial waste, stain resistant carpets, carpet cleaning liquids, house dust, microwave popcorn bags, water, food, some cookware and PTFE.
The government has not assessed the safety of non-stick cookware. According to a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) food safety scientist: “You won’t find a regulation anywhere on the books that specifically addresses cookwares,” although the FDA approved Teflon for contact with food in 1960 based on a food frying study that found higher levels of Teflon chemicals in hamburger cooked on heat-aged and old pans. At the time, FDA judged these levels to be of little health significance.
In 2006, under pressure from the U.S. EPA, DuPont and 7 other companies promised to phase out by 2015 a cancer-causing chemical called PFOA, used to make Teflon and also found in grease-resistant coatings for food packaging. In its place, the chemical industry is pushing new, supposedly “green” food package coatings.
But an investigation by Environmental Working Group (EWG) finds no evidence that the industry-touted replacement chemicals being rushed to market are safer — and plenty of evidence that DuPont and other manufacturers are continuing a decades-long pattern of deception about the health risks of PFOA and related chemicals.
Like PFOA-based coatings, the new compounds are also made from, contaminated with, or break down into perfluorochemicals (PFCs), including new coatings for household products like stain-resistant fabrics and carpet, waterproof clothing, and food packaging. Like PFOA, they persist in the environment and can cross the placenta to contaminate babies before birth.
But unlike PFOA – for which there are dozens of peer-reviewed studies showing links to cancer, reproductive problems and immune disorders – for the replacement chemicals there are almost no publicly available data on their health risks, leaving in question whether food packaging and other PFC-containing products are any safer.
Between 1999 and 2003 there were a lot of news reports about studies showing that the chemicals known as PFO’s, PFOA’s and PFC’s were being released from cookware and getting into people’s bodies. Many groups came out with warnings suggesting that non-stick cookware be replaced by regular stainless steel or cast iron pots and pans. I have known about this warning for quite some time, but I am not surprised that cookware coated with the chemical commonly known as Teflon is still the vast majority of cookware in use today. The chemical coatings are inexpensive so non-stick cookware is less costly than stainless steel. The non-stick properties of Teflon make cooking some types of food so much easier that it is unlikely that most people will ever go back to using traditional pots and pans.
One of the reasons Teflon is still in wide use in cookware is that has been difficult to determine what the real source of these chemicals in the people’s bodies is. In addition to non-stick cookware, the chemicals are found in many consumer products including shampoo, food grade paper products, carpets, lubricants, rug cleaners, garden tools, and even zippers. PFOA is released as water and air pollution during the manufacturing of carpets, clothing, and paper. These chemicals have been found in tested air, water, and food in every U.S. city where testing has been done.
DuPont, which settled a class-action lawsuit brought by residents living near its Parkersburg plant in 2004 for $300 million, has consistently maintained that it has met all federal reporting requirements and that PFOA does not pose a serious health threat. DuPont, the main manufacturer and user of these chemicals claims that its non stick coatings are safe. Of course the company has a huge financial investment and interest in the continued use of Teflon. It is also true, however, that some experts have called for caution in sounding an alarm about the use of these chemicals in non-stick cookware. Because of the many different sources of PFO’s in the environment, these scientists say it is impossible to know exactly how the chemical gets into the blood of virtually every person in the developed world
According to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, PFCs in non-stick cookware, clothing, furniture, and food packaging appear to be responsible for causing vaccines to fail as well, as they can reduce antibody concentrations to levels below what is considered effective for warding off disease.
Philippe Grandjean, MD, DMSc, from the Harvard School of Public Health and his colleagues evaluated 656 children born at the National Hospital in the Faroe Islands, a country located in the Norwegian Sea, between 1999 and 2001. This study location was considered ideal because people living in the region consume lots of fish, which is closely associated with high intake of PFCs.
The team measured blood serum levels of antibodies for tetanus and diphtheria toxoids in the children at ages five and seven, and compared these levels to those of various PFCs. Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) were found to be in the highest concentrations compared to all other PFCs, and were directly associated with lowered antibody counts.
A two-fold increase in PFOS exposure among five-year-old children, for instance, was associated with a 39 percent reduction in anti-diphtheria antibody concentration. And in seven-year-old children, a two-fold increase in PFOA exposure was associated with a 36 percent and 25 percent reduction, respectively, for tetanus and diphtheria antibodies.
“The perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) are highly persistent and cause contamination of drinking water, food, and food chains,” wrote the authors. “If the associations are causal, the clinical importance of our findings is therefore that PFC exposure may increase a child’s risk for not being protected against diphtheria and tetanus, despite a full schedule of vaccinations.”
PFCs are everywhere, as evidenced by a 2004 US government study which found the chemicals in a shocking 98 percent of blood samples taken from a large pool of Americans. So if the chemicals really do inactivate vaccine potential by disabling antibodies, then vaccines may have been shown once again to be medically useless for most Americans.
In a 2009 USEPA study of 116 products—purchased between March 2007 and May 2008 and found to contain at least 0.01% fluorine by weight—the concentrations of PFOA were determined. Concentrations shown below range from not detected, or ND, (with the detection limit in parenthesis) to 6750 with concentrations in nanograms of PFOA per gram of sample—or parts per billion—unless stated otherwise.
|Pre-treated carpeting||ND(<1.5) to 462|
|Carpet-care liquids||19 to 6750|
|Treated apparel||5.4 to 161|
|Treated upholstery||0.6 to 293|
|Treated home textiles||3.8 to 438|
|Treated non-woven medical garments||46 to 369|
|Industrial floor wax and wax removers||7.5 to 44.8|
|Stone, tile, and wood sealants||477 to 3720|
|Membranes for apparel||0.1 to 2.5 ng/cm 2|
|Food contact paper||ND (<1.5) to 4640|
|Dental floss/tape||ND (<1.5) to 96.7|
|Thread sealant tape||ND (<1.5) to 3490|
|PTFE cookware||ND (<1.5) to 4.3|
Leonard Lorch, an entrepreneur in Stanford, Calif., has invented a dental floss that has toothpaste encased between two thin ribbons of Teflon fiber. The floss offers a way to get toothpaste between teeth. In addition, the Teflon coating is smoother and less likely to cut gums, the inventor said. Mr. Lorch received patent 4,776,358.
A study done in 2005 by the Environmental Working Group in collaboration with Commonweal found perflourooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical found in such pans and a known carcinogen, in the umbilical cord blood of newborns. John Hopkins Medical Center did a similar test in 2006 where PFOA was present in the umbilical cord blood of 99% of the 300 infants tested
At the same time, PFCs are also likely responsible for lowering natural antibody counts as well. A 2011 study out of West Virginia University found that PFCs disrupt hormonal balance and lead to early menopause in women, while a 2009 study linked PFCs to liver damage and depressed immunity.
In two to five minutes on a conventional stovetop, cookware coated with Teflon and other non-stick surfaces can exceed temperatures at which the coating breaks apart and emits toxic particles and gases linked to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pet bird deaths and an unknown number of human illnesses each year, according to tests commissioned by Environmental Working Group (EWG).
In new tests conducted by a university food safety professor, a generic non-stick frying pan preheated on a conventional, electric stovetop burner reached 736°F in three minutes and 20 seconds, with temperatures still rising when the tests were terminated. A Teflon pan reached 721°F in just five minutes under the same test conditions (See Figure 1), as measured by a commercially available infrared thermometer. DuPont studies show that the Teflon offgases toxic particulates at 464°F. At 680°F Teflon pans release at least six toxic gases, including two carcinogens, two global pollutants, and MFA, a chemical lethal to humans at low doses. At temperatures that DuPont scientists claim are reached on stovetop drip pans (1000°F), non-stick coatings break down to a chemical warfare agent known as PFIB, and a chemical analog of the WWII nerve gas phosgene.
For the past fifty years DuPont has claimed that their Teflon coatings do not emit hazardous chemicals through normal use. In a recent press release, DuPont wrote that “significant decomposition of the coating will occur only when temperatures exceed about 660 degrees F (340 degrees C). These temperatures alone are well above the normal cooking range.”
These new tests show that cookware exceeds these temperatures and turns toxic through the common act of preheating a pan, on a burner set on high.
In cases of “Teflon toxicosis,” as the bird poisonings are called, the lungs of exposed birds hemorrhage and fill with fluid, leading to suffocation. DuPont acknowledges that the fumes can also sicken people, a condition called “polymer fume fever.” DuPont has never studied the incidence of the fever among users of the billions of non-stick pots and pans sold around the world. Neither has the company studied the long-term effects from the sickness, or the extent to which Teflon exposures lead to human illnesses believed erroneously to be the common flu.
However, PFOA is actually broken down when it’s made into a product like a Teflon pan, so the pan itself doesn’t contain the chemical, says James E. Klaunig, Ph.D., professor of toxicology at Indiana University in Indianapolis. Some experts suspect pollution may be to blame for PFOA in our blood, and eight major manufacturers recently agreed to reduce their factories’ air emissions of this chemical.
- In February, 2005, DuPont settled a class-action lawsuit for $107.6 million brought by Ohio and West Virginia residents four years earlier. The suit alleged that the chemical company intentionally withheld and misrepresented information concerning the human health threat posed by PFOA. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of residents living near the DuPont plant on the Ohio River, southwest of Parkersburg, WV, whose drinking water supply was contaminated by PFOA. DuPont denied any wrongdoing but entered into the agreement because (according to them) of the time and expense of litigation. The agreement also called for DuPont to provide new water treatment equipment at an estimated cost of $10 million, and to fund a $5 million independent study to determine if PFOA makes people sick. $22.6 million in legal fees and expenses went to the residents who sued. One of the 50,000 people involved in the class action was Bucky Bailey, born with only one nostril and other facial defects during the time his mother was a DuPont factory worker exposed to PFOA.
- Also in 2005, DuPont agreed to pay a $10.25 million fine for failing to report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the risks it knew about PFOA. Among research that DuPont kept secret were: 1981 documents which showed that its pregnant workers were passing the chemical to their unborn children; 2001 test results which showed levels of PFOA in the blood of people living near DuPont’s W. Va. facility; 1991 evidence that the chemical had contaminated the water supply to 12,000 people; a 1997 animal test in which PFOA killed all the rats which inhaled the chemical.
- April, 2006, Settlement of a federal lawsuit, in which DuPont was charged with contaminating the drinking water of one of its manufacturing facilities in Salem County, New Jersey, with PFOA and other chemicals. In addition to the $10.25 million EPA settlement, DuPont provided $6.25 million for Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs), for a total of $16.5 million.
So if the pan itself doesn’t contain PFOA. What is the Telfon pan made out of? Non-stick coatings wear over time and can get stretched.
The materials in other pans can contain bad cookware particles that migrate into food during cooking. Glass, iron, ceramic and titanium are materials recommended to cook in. Many stainless steel pans contain aluminum and or copper. Cooking in stainless steel is still not bad, it takes alittle more cleaning, but health wise is much better.
To ensure that the most rigorous science is used in the Agency’s ongoing evaluation of PFOA, OPPT submitted in 2005 a draft risk assessment for formal peer review by the Agency’s Science Advisory Board (SAB). That draft was preliminary and did not provide conclusions regarding potential levels of concern. The SAB reviewed the information that was available at the time, and suggested that the PFOA cancer data are consistent with the EPA guidelines descriptor “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.” Since their review, additional research has been conducted pertaining to the carcinogenicity of PFOA. EPA is still in the process of evaluating this information, and has not made any definitive conclusions at this time.
Civil Enforcement: E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Company Settlement: EPA settles PFOA case against DuPont for largest administrative civil penalty
A word of CAUTION to all !
Not all Ceramic cookware is safe ! The so called ” Green Friendly Non-stick ceramic cookware” MAY NOT BE SAFE ! Look at the US Patent and you will understand.
Currently the vast majority of ceramic cookware being manufactured are not just ceramic coated for a hard abrasion resistant surface, but rather they are a combination of nano ceramic particles mixed with a fluoropolymer. ALL Fluoropolymers release toxic chemicals when heated beginning at 250 degrees C or 482 Degrees F. Their toxic effects are cumulative at all levels of exposure and resultant damage to your lungs is NOT reversible.
Non-stick finish composition
Document Type and Number:
United States Patent 7772311
“Products having non-stick finishes of the present invention include cookware, bakeware, rice cookers and inserts there for, water pots, iron sole plates, conveyors, chutes, roll surfaces, cutting blades, etc.”
“The principal components of the composition of the present invention are the fluoropolymer as non-stick component and ceramic particles as the abrasion resistant component.” They are coated with a liquid suspension of ceramic particles & Fluoropolymer and then high temperature heat treated to cure or harden the finish.
A final note on new green ceramic non-stick cookware. Ceramic Epoxy Fluorosiloxane coming out of Hong Kong is not any safer. The surface is a harder finish, but the material still thermally degrades releasing deadly fluorochemicals and as with all siloxanes, like baking silicone mats they release Formaldehyde. I don’t use any of this stuff I value my families health. Here is an excerpt from the New patent explaining what it’s made of:
“A non-stick coating composition comprising; a colored base layer for bonding to a substrate and a transparent top layer superimposed on and bonded to the base layer; the base layer composed of 70 to 85% by weight of a first matrix comprising the condensation reaction product of a silica sol and methyltrihydroxysilane and from 15 to 30% by wt of a colorant, with about 5 to about 20% by wt of the first matrix being substituted by hydroxy-terminated polydimethylsiloxane having a molecular weight of from about 400 to 6000; said base layer having a distinct lower portion composed principally of the first matrix and colorant, and a distinct upper portion composed principally of said hydroxy-terminated polydimethylsiloxane and said first matrix and colorant, and the top layer composed of a second matrix comprising the condensation reaction product of a silica sol and methyltrihydroxysilane with from about 5 to about 20% by wt of the second matrix being substituted by hydroxy-terminated polydimethylsiloxane having a molecular weight of from about 400 to 6000, and with from about 0.3 to about 12% by wt of the second matrix being substituted by fluoroalkoxysilane.”
Anthony Vincent Samsel retired, Hazardous Chemical Materials Consultant, Arthur D. Little, Inc., Cambridge, MA
“If the inside cooking surface is not a Golden color, the pan is most likely a ceramic nano-particle mixed with a fluoropolymer. The only safe ceramic pans are the old fashioned real ceramic type with a white finish that occassionally chip, or the Iridium ceramic coated pan which is a Gold color.
There are a number of patents for ceramic non-stick pans and ALL CONTAIN FLUOROPOLYMERS except Iridium ceramics.” Anthony Vincent Samsel
Historically, true ceramic finishes were not non-stick. Today the market is full of ceramic/non-stick surfaces but almost all contain Fluoropolymers. This really becomes confusing to the consumer and there is a lot of fraud happening. Manufacturers are claiming the product not containing Teflon or PFOA’s but in actuality the non-sticks still contain fluoropolymers mixed with ceramics just not the Dupont Teflon brand name fluoropolymer. In addition to Iridium ceramic coated cookware, ceramic coated non stick properties are also achieved using Zirconium Nitride which gives the surface that golden color. This is the only non-stick ceramic finish I am aware of that is free of any fluoropolymer.
In my case, I simply stopped using non-stick pans years ago. My advice is don’t use Teflon pots and pans. Don’t use non-stick cookware of any type. Especially for frying, and sauteing use a stainless steel pan. I brought (All-Clad) stainless steel. Use cocunut spread that can replace your butter and margarine. It smells great tastes great and it contains the best fats you can eat. You do not want the chemicals from non-stick pans accumulating in your body. I suggest not only look at your cooking habits but also throw out the dangerous cookware. Even if the high contaimination is coming from our water we also don’t need it in the rest of the environment. Ban it. Besides stainless steel you can use cast iron as well. Don’t fall for all the high-tech coated cookware that the next cooking fade will push another pan coating. When you do fry something, you can use lower temperatures.
A well-seasoned cast iron skillet repels food better than any Teflon I’ve ever had.