Understanding Teflon and why what you cook with matters to the Earth

Understanding Teflon and why what you cook with matters to the Earth


It is unlikely to go a day without seeing some mention of Teflon.  Teflon is a brand name for a man-made chemical known as polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), which has been in commercial use since the 1940s. It has a wide variety of applications because it can provide an almost frictionless surface. Most people are familiar with it as a non-stick coating surface for pans and other cookware, although it has also been used in medical procedures.


According to the findings of a 2006 Environmental Protection Agency scientific advisory panel, the primary chemical used to make Teflon -- perfluorooctanoic acid or PFOA -- is a "likely human carcinogen." As we explore these dangers, remember PFOA is used in the production of Teflon and PTFE is the final product.


Environmental Damage from Teflon?


DuPont, a large chemical company, offered a settlement of $670 million in 2017 for the impact their production of "Teflon" had in the contamination of water from their mid-Ohio facility.  The issue was the chemical PFOA that gives Teflon its miracle non-stick ability.  This contamination was ongoing for an extended, and the study on its effect on over 30,000 individuals began to be studied in 2005.  With the data collected over those ten years, in of May 2016, the EPA issued a health advisory after studies proved the chemical exposure could cause testicular cancer, kidney cancer, defects in unborn children, liver damage, thyroid disease, and ulcerative colitis.  Studies have shown that water systems in Louisville, Kentucky; Gallia County, Ohio; and Parkersburg, West Virginia have PFOA levels below the EPA guidelines, but higher than what most scientists in both the United States and European Union recommend for consumption.


Dangers of Teflon Cookware


""The link between Teflon cookware and cancer is an entirely different subject," says Robert Wolke, professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh and author of the two-part book series What Einstein Told His Cook. "There is no PFOA in the final Teflon product, so there is no risk that it will cause cancer in those who use Teflon cookware." What Wolke is not mentioning is that if Teflon cookware is overheated, another chemical PTFE breaks down into toxins, which are released in the air or leached into the food.


Experiments have shown that at low cooking temperatures Teflon is safe to use. But you must adhere to cooking below these temperatures: 350°C or 650°F. If you cook above it, the PTFE, which is bound in the Teflon coating can disintegrate, and harmful gases form that when inhaled are carcinogenic. The health effects of overheated Teflon may be severe.


The Environmental Working Group has documented several incidents where Teflon and the PTFE chemical was linked directly to the death in birds. In one instance it was cited that Teflon-coated drip pans in use for a Thanksgiving dinner were linked to the death of 14 birds in 15 minutes.  The cause of their death what identified as ""Teflon toxicosis."" In the 20th century, coal miners used canaries to act as an early warning sign for toxic gases, such as carbon monoxide. 'Let's take a lesson from that age and realize that if PTFE is causing toxicosis in birds, what is it doing to our bodies? 


PTFE in the Body


Products for medical implants created with PTFE or Teflon were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1995. Teflon was used to create a non-stick side of the mesh to prevent other tissues from sticking.  Studies have found that these implants with PTFE have larger pores are much more likely to be breeding grounds for bacteria.  In many cases, the bacteria grow quicker than antibiotics can kill the infection.  This results in surgeons needing to remove the implant, which results in its own series of complications.


Environmental Impacts of your Cookware


When considering the environmental impact of your pots and pans, you’ll want to consider energy usage, too. Teflon-coated pans and pots heat up fast, but the pan or pot stays hotter than the food you’re cooking. You’ll have to turn the pan up higher to get your food hotter — and we’ve already talked about what happens when you turn the heat high on under your non-stick pan.


Ceramic pots and pans, on the other hand, naturally retain heat more efficiently. It takes less energy to heat your food, and food stays hotter longer, which may be important in preventing food-borne illnesses. Food heats evenly thanks to the cookware’s natural thermal conductivity, giving you more control over your cooking and ensuring your food is cooked correctly all the way through.


Before you buy a non-toxic, non-stick pan, you’ll also want to consider its lifespan and what will happen once you need to toss your pan. If you buy Teflon and toss your cookware into the trash once the coating has worn off, the PTFE remaining in the pan can harm birds when the cookware ends up at a landfill.


One major concern that comes from using nonstick Teflon and coated pans is the inability to dispose of them in a truly environmentally safe way once they have reached the end of their lifespan (which can be anywhere from 1-5years). Once tossing your non-stick pan it most likely ends up in a landfill, and the earth absorbs these harmful and damaging chemicals. These chemicals and toxins can and will then end up in our soil and in near by bodies of water which than tampers with the overall pollution of the world’s water supply. Sadly the disposing of coated cookware with Teflon has been linked to areas with increased sickness from exposure to a highly polluted water supply. It is encouraging to know that it is possible to rid some of these forever chemicals from the earth but unfortunately most countries will not have the funds to be able to do so.  Our choices matter, choosing cookware that last for generations will impact your health and the health of the earth.


Ceramic is an inert material and a natural product, so it may be less harmful. It will not emit fumes, even if does end up in a landfill. And since Xtrema ceramic cookware can last for many years, you’ll also be tossing less of your cookware away, which’ll save you money and also prove to be gentler on the environment.


Next Steps for You and Your Family


In the USA, PFOA has been recorded to have dropped in the environment by an estimated 40% over ten years as much production of Teflon has been moved overseas.  Even with that decline, it is essential to research the local water in your area to see what levels it has for any type of metal toxicity and making sure that it is within the recommended guidelines.  A big step you can take at home is avoiding take out containers coated with PFTE.  Cooking meals at home can prevent exposure to these toxins, primarily if you use cookware that is free from metals and other carcinogens.  Xtrema provides safe and healthy cookware for your family.  Healthy choices are our focus, both in and outside of the kitchen. 

about the author

Erik Bergstrom

Erik Bergstrom

Erik Bergstrom is the Digital Media Manager at Xtrema Cookware, and he oversees the online presence of the company! Erik has personally seen family members struggle with chronic illness, and it fuels his passion for helping others understand the importance and value of cooking clean. Erik enjoys cooking, educating, and creating healthy meals for his friends and family. He is always seeking out new information from wellness professionals to grow his knowledge of what toxins do to the human body and the value of cooking without them!

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