What Is PFOA?
Perfluorooctanoic acid or PFOA is a synthetic chemical used to manufacture polymer coatings that are heat-, stain-, scratch-, and stick-resistant. These coatings are used in many industries, including construction, manufacturing, and firefighting.
PFOA is also used to produce nonstick coatings for pots and pans.
Many nonstick cookware manufacturers used to use PFOA to give their pots and pans scratch- and stick-proof properties. But while everyone loves using a nonstick pan to cook eggs and other stubborn foods, PFOA could be more dangerous than you think.
PFOA vs. PTFE
Teflon, one of the most popular brands of nonstick cookware, contains a synthetic fluoropolymer called polytetrafluoroethylene.
Polytetrafluoroethylene or PTFE is the chemical compound used to make pans nonstick. In the past, PFOA was frequently used by companies like DuPont to produce the PTFE coating for Teflon cookware.
Is PFOA Still Used?
PFOA has not been used to make nonstick cookware—including Teflon pots and pans—since 2013, but the once widely-used chemical has already taken its toll on people and the environment.
And it doesn’t matter whether you’ve recently purchased pots or pans containing PFOA or not. This "forever chemical" does not degrade in the environment, so PFOA used ten years ago is still in the air, earth, and water. That includes drinking water.
As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established a health advisory to protect Americans, especially the most sensitive populations, from “adverse health effects resulting from exposure to PFOA” in water supplies. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization (WHO), classified PFOAs as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” And the American Cancer Society published this article on their site under “what causes cancer” to inform consumers of the dangers of PFOA and similar substances.
How We Unknowingly Consume PFOA
Drinking water is believed to be the primary way most of us consume PFOA. Many water sources have been contaminated with PFOA by factory run-off over the years and there is no way to remove it completely.
Another way that PFOA makes its way into our bodies is through pots and pans. Although most companies claim that they have eliminated PFOA from their cookware, nothing manufactured using PFOA is truly PFOA-free. A company may say that the PFOA they use to create nonstick coatings is omitted during production, but if PFOA is used in the manufacturing process at all, it will be present in trace amounts in the final product.
If you own any nonstick cookware, you have probably heard that you are not supposed to use these pots and pans for high heat cooking. This is not only because high temperatures destroy the coating, but because nonstick surfaces release toxic fumes when heated. Using metal utensils may also cause PTFE pan coatings to degrade and release chemicals.
But even if you are always gentle with your nonstick cookware and you never cook with high heat, PFOA has probably already leached into your food. So if you’re still using cookware made using PFOA, you should replace your cookware set with safe, PFOA-free alternatives right away. Side note: it’s always best to cook on low to medium heat no matter what pans you use.
PFOA Health Effects
PFOA is problematic because it stays in our bodies. Scientists are not sure just how long PFOA is likely to be present in our systems or what exactly this means for our health.
Because PFOA has been detected in land and water around the country, you are more likely than not to have PFOA in your blood. Why does this matter? Even in very low concentrations, this chemical might have long-term health implications. This could include an elevated risk of cancer.
A possible link between PFOA and cancer is cause for much concern, but this is far from the only health effect of PFOA exposure. In lab testing by CDC researchers, PFOA harmed growth, development, and reproduction in rats.
Many studies have been done on the effects of PFOA on the human body as well. Researchers warn of the potential for flu like symptoms after inhaling fumes from an overheated frying pan. Other possible links have been drawn between PFOA exposure and various cancers and diseases, including:
- Liver damage
- Thyroid disease
- Testicular cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Reproductive complications
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
But although there may be correlations, the long-term consequences of PFOA on human health are yet unknown. With that said, experts have not ruled out the possibility that this chemical is harmful. In this case, it’s best to err on the side of caution and assume that what you don’t know can very much hurt you.
Even low levels of PFOA in your blood are reason to worry. When your safety is in question, you don’t want to take any risks with cookware that is not 100% PFOA free.
Choose Ceramic Cookware
We may not know for sure whether PFOA is safe for humans, but we do know that ceramic—made of naturally-occurring materials and compounds such as clay—is.
In addition to offering protection from possible harm, choosing ceramic pots and pans will benefit your cooking. But why ceramic? Stainless steel cookware is another PFOA-free alternative to nonstick pots and pans, but this material is not resistant to sticking and it scratches easily. This scratching releases trace amounts of metal into your food.
Ceramic cookware contains no metal or toxic chemicals. And not only is Xtrema pure ceramic cookware safe, but it’s stain-resistant, dishwasher-safe, and more versatile than other types of cookware. Our line of 100% ceramic pots and pans can be used in the oven, on the stove, in the microwave, and can withstand higher heat than nonstick coated cookware.
We use only natural, raw materials to manufacture our pots and pans. This means that, besides being PFOA-free, all Xtrema cookware is free of:
- Heavy metals of any kind
Getting rid of your Teflon-coated cookware doesn’t have to mean scraping stuck-on food off of your pots and pans each time you cook. Ceramic is naturally stick-resistant, so there is no need for us to add any special coating to our cookware to ensure that your food easily releases from the surface. And because we don’t use a synthetic coating, you won’t have to worry about our pots and pans losing their non stick properties over time.
* Image credit: Dr. Christian Gonzalez (@doctor.g_), Heal Thy Self podcast