Have you ever asked yourself that question?
We've all seen the scratched Teflon pans at garage sales, but few of us have stopped to ponder where exactly all those little scrapings of non-stick coating have gone. But it's a question that has been put to the people at Cyber-Help, who had to do some research to answer this question. After all, organic food processors could be using Teflon pots to create value-added products. Buyers of Certified Organic products want to be assured they are getting the cleanest possible foods. So our question is, "Are there Teflon residues remaining in the foods cooked in Teflon, and if so, is that a bad thing?"
It seems a simple question, until one visits any of the various sites which include articles on this subject, when the gloves come off, the fur flies, and the budgie gets it. On the Teflon site, we are assured that the non-stick pans are perfectly safe, and as DuPont's Kris Mohan says, "It's completely inert, and it passes right through the body without interfering with anything."
Still, there are all those comments on the internet about dying budgies, which seems to lead us to a more immediate danger - the fumes released into the homes and business by overheating the non-stick pans "releasing 15 harmful gases and chemicals, including two carcinogens, two global pollutants, and MFA, a chemical lethal to humans at low doses. Non-stick coatings break down to a chemical warfare agent known as PFIB (perfluoroisobutylene), and a chemical analog of the WWII nerve gas, phosgene." Further, "DuPont acknowledges that the fumes given off by non-stick coatings can also sicken people in a condition called "polymer fume fever" . . . ". Naturally, the cookware companies making these compounds insist that if their products had been used within the stated guidelines (of low to medium heat) these gasses would not be released. But a further study showed that gasses were released at as low as 100F, and as one wag asked, "Who's wondering what happens to the Teflon in your blood when your temperature goes above 100?" A very realistic question put forth was "how many people have never overheated a pan?"
And certainly there have been studies of toxicity, but you don't have to even leave the factory to find the results of those, since toxins are released, apparently, both by air and water leaving the many factories that produce these compounds. Dupont studied a small number of its own pregnant employees, and after noting birth defects, promptly made the decision to relocate many women to other plants - not that working slightly further away would help. Not only are these compounds now found in 90 percent of the American public, they have been discovered in samples taken from pole to pole, in whales and fish about as far from an American factory as they could get. In the year 2000, 3M stopped producing these particular compounds, stating that perfluorochemicals had been found to persist indefinitely in human blood and wildlife. Theirs was a conscientious decision based on their own studies. But one company ceasing production of these chemicals has not stopped their proliferation into the skies - they are constantly off-gassing in carpets, clothing and furniture all over North America.
It seems almost redundant by now to return to the main question - do these compounds come out in our food? Well, yes. As far back as 1960, studies showed that there were higher levels of Teflon chemicals in hamburgers cooked in old pans than in new pans, but these levels were judged to be of "little health significance". And naturally, now that 90% of American bodies will show traces of these chemicals, how do we prove what came from the cookware, and what was inhaled from carpets, clothing, and the factory up the river?
As for what these chemicals actually do to you once they are in your body, strangely, the Environmental Protection Agency, as of December 2003, had yet to begin studies on human blood. Studies have been performed on rats and mice, though, which showed changes in organ size and fetal health. The results of this particular test were enough to incite the Environmental Working Group to petition to have warnings applied to non-stick cookware - but unfortunately, they, like myself, "had not established whether humans will experience adverse health affects when nonstick coated cookware is used at normal cooking temperatures".
When in doubt, I try to use my gut reaction to guide me through decision making that lacks "scientific basis". And my gut smells a rat with funny shaped organs. It's probably safe to say that continuing the purchase and use of compounds this nasty is just plain bad - bad for whales, bad for budgies, bad for test rats - and anything that harms other tender critters has got to be bad for us. Allowing its use in organic production would be at odds with the intention of organic regulation.
Updated August 2, 2004
by Robin Wheeler.
Robin Wheeler has written numerous gardening and environmental articles, and operates Edible Landscapes, a nursery on the Sunshine Coast dedicated to naturally grown popular and exotic edible plants.
1732 Pell Road, Roberts Creek, BC
Phone: (604) 885-4505
[We recently learned of Robin Wheeler's passing and want to acknowledge her valuable contributions to this web site. - Cyber-Help, March 2012 ]
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