As a mother, two of my goals are to remove harmful chemicals from our home and provide clean, healthy food for my family. As a part of our clean living goals, I also want to make sure that the products in our home are safe too.
Many of us grew up using non-stick cookware, such as Teflon, stain-resistant fabrics, and other non-stick products. These products promised convenience and the ability to save time cleaning. But did you know that almost every human, including newborn babies, has Teflon chemicals in their blood? If this is true, then we need to know, is Teflon safe to use?
For over 50 years, according to the Environmental Working Group, 3M and DuPont have been manufacturing and using toxic chemicals to make Teflon and other products while hiding the harmful effects that these chemicals can have on human health.
As conscious consumers, we need to arm ourselves with the knowledge to avoid harmful chemicals when possible, such as those used to make Teflon, so we can live a cleaner lifestyle. If we are going to focus on serving our families healthy, clean food, then we need to also be sure that these chemicals are not leaching into the food as it cooks.
IS TEFLON SAFE?
One day when I was boiling water in a relatively inexpensive pot that my good-intentioned husband bought because it was a good deal, I noticed that the plastic handle was emitting fumes that smelled toxic.
This reminded me of another occasion that I smelled burning plastic in my dishwasher and that I had also heard about the harmful effects of Teflon when it reaches high temperatures. Since that moment it has been nagging at my conscious. Any time I took out my non-stick frying pan, I vowed to research and investigate the claims I had heard about Teflon.
This is what I learned.
Most non-stick cookware is coated with a synthetic polymer called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), which is the main chemical in Teflon – a DuPont product.
Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), also known as C8, is a man-made chemical that is used to make PTFE. PFOA is part of a class of chemicals called Per- and Polyflouroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS chemicals. PFAS chemicals are used to make stain-, water-, and grease-repellant coatings.
While PFOA isn’t present in large amounts in the final Teflon product, it is used during the manufacturing process and the byproducts are disposed of into the environment.
According to the Environmental Working Group, “These chemicals are notoriously persistent in the environment and the human body, and some have been linked to serious health effects.”
As stated previously, PFOA is now in the blood of 99% of Americans according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Additionally, nothing breaks down PFOA and PFAS chemicals. Once it is in your system, it can stay in your blood for decades, which scientists call biopersistent.
When news emerged in 2001 about the contamination of the local drinking water in a West Virginia community, the EWG and others started investigating the Teflon chemicals to determine if they were causing health harm to humans and animals.
In my research, I came across the documentary called The Devil We Know, which sheds a lot of light on the harmful impact PFOA (or C8) on our health. There were many people in that West Virginia community that suffered significant illnesses, disease, birth defects, and even death, as a result of working in the DuPont factories and drinking the contaminated local water.
In 2002, the Environmental Protection Agency launched an investigation into PFOA and PFOS and found scientific evidence of serious health harm, including testicular, kidney, liver and pancreatic cancer, weakened childhood immunity, low birth weight, endocrine disruption, increased cholesterol, and weight gain in children and dieting adults.
As a result, the manufacture and use of both PFOA and PFOS were banned in the United States after the EPA’s investigation. However, a new set of chemicals was developed to replace these chemicals and there is evidence that they are just as toxic and harmful.
So as a concerned mother and consumer, who wants to protect my family from harmful chemicals that can easily be avoided, I’ve decided that avoiding PFAS and other chemicals that are used to make Teflon and non-stick products is something I can easily do.
PRODUCTS TO AVOID
So far, I have mainly focused on how Teflon is not safe, but there are many other non-stick products that contain the PFAS chemicals that should also be avoided, including:
- StainMaster carpet
- Microwave popcorn bags
- Glide Floss
- The self-cleaning process of non-stick oven interiors
- Grease-resistant wrappers used in fast-food restaurants
- Fabrics treated with stain-resistant chemicals
- Water-proof clothing or fabrics
Basically, you’ll want to consider avoiding or limiting anything that claims to be non-stick or claims to resist stains, water, or grease. Look for alternatives whenever possible.
SAFE COOKWARE OPTIONS
Based on the research I’ve done and the recommendations I found on the websites listed below (see “Sources), there are a handful of cookware options that are considered safe and definitely better than Teflon.
- Ceramic cookware, such as Xtrema
- Cast iron cookware
- Corningware and Glass cookware
- Stainless Steel cookware
IS CERAMIC-COATED COOKWARE SAFE?
The jury is still out on ceramic coated non-stick cookware, such as GreenPan. To be honest, I recently bought a couple of GreenPan frying pans before I thoroughly researched them. However, since then, I did look into the research and testing, and here’s what I found.
GreenPan and other ceramic coated non-stick cookware use a product called Thermalon, which is made with a sand derivative that does not contain harmful chemicals such as PFOA. This is good news!
GreenPan has been pretty transparent and has released third-party testing documenting its product’s safety, which definitely makes me feel more confident. However, there is other research that shows that there may possibly be a release of titanium dioxide nanoparticles from these non-stick coatings into food. Keep in mind that there is also no long-term testing to support its safety.
Yet, GreenPan and similar ceramic coated non-stick cookware are likely still a better choice than traditional non-stick pans that use Teflon. So do your research and make a decision that you feel is best for you and your family.
IS ENAMELED CAST IRON COOKWARE SAFE?
Enameled cast iron cookware, such as Le Creuset, is another option that many people feel is safer than Teflon. These types of pots and pans are usually cast iron with a chip-resistant enamel exterior.
According to the Wellness Mama blog, there was a recent controversy about the potential of lead and cadmium leaching from these enameled cast iron pieces, including high-end brands such as Le Creuset. The company disputed these claims and did release their safety data, which showed no traces of lead or cadmium.
So like ceramic coated non-stick cookware, the safety of enameled cast iron cookware has not been researched enough to prove it’s safety 100%. It seems to vary depending on the quality of the cookware, the brand, and sometimes even color (blue cookware by Le Creuset seems to test safer than other colors). For my own personal use, this is a better option than Teflon, but we are probably better off sticking to proven safe alternatives.
SO WHAT IS THE BEST CHOICE?
In the end, it seems clear that Teflon is not safe, and that you should strongly consider switching to a safer cookware option, such as cast iron, stoneware, Corningware, ceramic, glass or stainless steel.
Protecting ourselves and our families from these harmful chemicals is important and easily avoidable. Arm yourself with the knowledge to avoid these harmful PFAS chemicals, and you’ll be making great progress towards your clean-living lifestyle.
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