Non-Stick Sticks Around

Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE)

Image via Wikipedia

So maybe you have heard bad things about non-stick pans.  If you haven’t, you should have.  Teflon, as it is commonly known, has been linked to cancer, harm to the immune system, liver and thyroid, and kills birds who are in the room when it is heated to high temperatures.  Might not be a good idea to use it.

In 2006, Dupont and 7 other companies agreed to voluntarily phase out PFOA, the chemical used to make Teflon and grease resistant coatings on food packaging.  This sounds good at first, but what are they replacing it with?  The companies are releasing new “green” chemicals into the marketplace now, saying they are much safer.

But according to the Environmental Working Group: “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.”

On top of that, because the phase-out is voluntary, there is no guarantee that PFOA will be eliminated.  Again, the Environmental Working Group: “Under the EPA agreement, companies only “commit to working toward the elimination” of the targeted perfluorochemicals by 2015 with no EPA enforcement mechanism in place and no penalties if deadlines are not met.”

“That the stewardship program is voluntary also means that companies can choose whether they want to opt in at all – and not a single company from China is participating. Biomonitoring data from China where production of PFOS and other PFCs continues indicate that the levels of these chemicals are increasing in the bodies of Chinese citizens (Jin 2007; Olsen 2008). These disconcerting findings are evidence that a US-only voluntary program will likely not be sufficient to protect American consumers from PFC contamination of everyday products given the massive quantity of goods the US imports from China. This is especially a concern when it comes to food packaging, for China is the third largest producer of packaging in the world (Packaging Expo 2008), and food packaging is considered to be an important source of exposure to PFCs (Begley 2005; Tittlemier 2007).”

“The voluntary nature of the program also means that companies face no penalties for failing to comply with the agreement, and that the EPA has no authority to require companies to submit to independent verification of the data and claims they are providing to EPA to document their efforts.”

So what can you do to avoid these chemicals as much as possible?  Here are some ideas from the Environmental Working Group:

  • Forgo the optional stain treatment on new carpets and furniture.
    Find products that haven’t been pre-treated, and if the couch you own is treated, get a cover for it.
  • Choose clothing that doesn’t carry Teflon® or ScotchgardTM tags.
    This includes fabric labeled stain- or water-repellent. When possible, opt for untreated cotton and wool.
  • Avoid non-stick pans and kitchen utensils.
    Opt for stainless steel or cast iron instead.
  • Cut back on greasy packaged and fast foods.
    These foods often come in treated wrappers.
  • Use real plates instead of paper.
  • Pop popcorn the old-fashioned way on the stovetop.
    Microwaveable popcorn bags are often coated with PFCs on the inside.
  • Choose personal care products without “PTFE” or “perfluoro” in the ingredients.
    Use EWG’s Skin Deep at cosmeticsdatabase.com to find safer choices.

And one more tip from me – eat locally grown, organic, unprocessed food.  Cook it yourself so you know what is in it.  If you don’t grow it yourself visit the farm to see how it is grown (or at least talk to someone who works there and have them look you in the eye and tell you).  The more I read about all this stuff, the more clear it becomes that the only person you can trust is yourself.

Good luck everyone!

-Teresa

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