RE: Are Teflon-coated pans a health risk to birds and humans?- Irresponsible Answer

The answer to this question was extremely irresponsible.

See: The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit consumer safety organization, has reviewed 16 peer-reviewed studies detailing experiments conducted over the past 50 years, showing that heated Teflon decomposes to 15 types of toxic gases and particles. Non-stick pans begin producing dangerous toxins within just two minutes of heating. In just the first five minutes, they release at least six toxic chemicals including two carcinogens, two global pollutants and a deadly chemical called MFA, which can kill human beings at very low doses.–-the-good-the-bad-and-the-just-plain-wrong/ &

In two to five minutes on a conventional stovetop, cookware coated with Teflon and other non-stick surfaces can exceed temperatures at which the coating breaks apart and emits toxic particles and gases linked to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pet bird deaths and an unknown number of human illnesses each year, according to tests commissioned by Environmental Working Group (EWG).

Major Study of Teflon Chemical in People Suggests Harm to Immune System, Liver, Thyroid, May 13, 2008
A chemical used to make Teflon, food wrappers and dozens of other products may harm the immune system, liver and thyroid and cause higher cholesterol in children, according to the initial findings of a study of 69,000 people in West Virginia and Ohio who live near a DuPont manufacturing plant.

In two to five minutes on a conventional stovetop, cookware coated with Teflon [can emit] toxic particles…

The EPA asserts that DuPont has purposely withheld health hazardous information regarding Teflon since the early 1980’s. Peflourooanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical used to produce Teflon, has been appearing in blood samples of people world wide…
PFOA’s present significant developmental and reproductive risks in humans with the use of Teflon:

  • An increased rate of birth defects has been found in mothers working at DuPont. The company’s response was to move female employees to other sections of the plant in an effort to reduce their exposure to PFOA’s.
  • The chemical coating that we have all come to benignly cook on is also used in fire fighting foam and phone cables. Variants of FPOA’s are used to make the coating on stain resistant carpets and flame retardants for clothing and computers.
  • Teflon can also be found in nail polish removers, eyeglasses, and as lining in pizza boxes.

EPA nails DuPont for violating federal Toxic Substances Control Act over Teflon

Saying No To PFCs
Chemical & Engineering News, Cheryl Hogue, Published August 29, 2008
The California State Legislature is on the brink of banning one type of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) from food wrappers, starting in 2010. Both the California Senate and Assembly have passed versions of a bill to stop the use of food packaging containing eight-carbon PFCs in the state.
PFCs impart oil, stain, grease, and water repellency to food wrappers. But the chemicals are biopersistent, and some are linked to health problems….
see also:
Toxic Teflon: compounds from household products found in human blood
Nonstick cookware emits toxic chemicals
EWG finds heated Teflon pans can turn toxic faster than DuPont claims


Are Teflon-coated pans a health risk to birds and humans?
February 22, 2008

Dear Cecil:

Should I get rid of all of my Teflon-coated pans? I’ve been told by veterinarians that Teflon emits a gas that’s deadly poison to pet birds (and wild ones too, presumably, but they don’t eat in the kitchen). Am I slowly killing my beloved bird, or are these folks full of guano? – iguana978

While we were making dinner the other night, my mother scolded me for owning Teflon pans. She has migrated to iron pans and pots exclusively, saying she heard the average iron level in Americans is down since Teflon pans have caught on. In addition, the Teflon scrapings I’m now eating are sitting around in my system and probably will cause me harm. I see where folks who lived close to a Teflon plant got sick and sued and won, but living near the plant and using Teflon cookware are two different things, right?

— Jason Kunkel

Right, and while that may seem like an elementary distinction, I’m glad you drew it, because many don’t. The current word on Teflon is that it can be dangerous under some circumstances but is safe if used with reasonable care. Cars can be lethal too, but I’m betting mom’s not telling you to get a horse. One proviso: the dangers of cars are well understood; the dangers of Teflon, not so much.

Do pans coated with Teflon, known to science as polytetrafluoroethylene or PTFE, emit a gas that kills birds? Normally no, occasionally yes. PTFE poisoning, also called Teflon toxicity, occurs mainly when PTFE-coated pots, pans, or utensils overheat. Teflon is fairly stable at typical cooking temperatures, but heat it above 500 degrees and it starts to emit fumes that can sicken you and make a bird drop dead. People usually don’t let their cookware get that hot, but it can happen if you preheat a dry pan, use a Teflon-coated drip tray, or just allow a Teflon-coated pot to boil dry. The emissions can lead to polymer fume fever, which DuPont, the maker of Teflon, warns can cause flulike symptoms in humans. Most sufferers recover quickly without treatment, but the medical journals mention instances of pulmonary edema, pneumonitis, and (rarely) death.

Why are birds at greater risk? It’s the canary-in-the-coal-mine thing. To generate power for flight, birds have efficient lungs that can suck in oxygen and transfer it to their bloodstreams at an impressive rate. Unfortunately, if an airborne toxin is drifting past, their lungs will efficiently suck that in too. DuPont recommends never keeping birds in the kitchen if you cook with Teflon. Remember, Teflon can be used in many household products besides pots and pans, including coffeemakers, popcorn poppers, ironing board covers, and space heaters - and some of these can get pretty hot. While keeping a canary as a toxin detector is a little retro for my taste, if your pet bird keels over when you turn up the heat on one of the above, you’ve got a problem you need to fix fast.

Now to the effect of Teflon pans on iron in the diet. We know using cast-iron cookware can significantly increase the iron content of some foods, especially acidic ones like spaghetti sauce. We also know women of childbearing age have a much greater requirement for iron than men (18 milligrams a day versus 8) and don’t get enough from the typical American diet. The question is whether iron is so hard to come by that we need cookware to supply it. Answer: of course not. It’s easy enough to ramp up the iron-rich foods like red meat and beans, or if those don’t suit you, iron-fortified cereal and iron supplements. Blaming Teflon for insufficient dietary iron is nonsense. The trend away from iron cookware is nearly a century old - folks have been spending more on aluminum cookware than all other metals combined since the 1930s, long before Teflon was common on pans. According to a USDA study of the American diet from 1900 to 1974, average iron consumption during that time went up, not down, chiefly due to the introduction of enriched flour in the 1940s.

But back to the real question. Will routine exposure to Teflon harm people? Lately the EPA and health advocates have been concerned about a chemical called PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid). It’s used in Teflon manufacture but doesn’t remain in the final product, or at least it’s not supposed to. The majority of an EPA expert panel agreed that PFOA is likely to be carcinogenic in humans. Research continues, but indications so far are that the people mainly at risk from PFOA work in or live near factories that use the chemical - in 2004 DuPont reached a multimillion-dollar settlement with residents near one such plant in West Virginia and has agreed to reduce its use of PFOA. The EPA says ordinary consumers aren’t in danger, so right now I wouldn’t worry. Tomorrow, who knows?

— Cecil Adams

No shit. They proved that if you heat an EMPTY nonstick pan, it gets hot enough to release potentially toxic fumes. Duuuuuh. So, you know what? Don’t do that. If you heat them with food in them (which is kinda what they’re meant for), they don’t get that hot because evaporating moisture carries away the excess energy.

Cecil: 1. You: 0.

Quota from first link cited:

The only comment that does uses information provided by EWG.

Second link: cites EWG as only source. The statement “In new tests conducted by a university food safety professor” the unnamed professor, doing uncited tests, did the work for… EWG. There are no cites or names at the EWG link where that quote originally appeared.

Third link. Another unnamed scientist does uncited work with no explanation of how his or her figures were derived.

I’ll stop there, although I looked at the EWG site as well. This is not science or is in any way related to science as I know it. If EWG wants to be believed by anyone trying to ascertain the facts on the subject they have to name names, give actual publications, and document their sources.

And then they have to show that heating teflon pans in real-world settings actually contribute sufficient gases to kill real-world animals. I don’t see any documentation of that anywhere on the EWG site or in any of the other sites.

Making accusations by using unnamed sources is irresponsible, in my book. Give me some real data to look at and I will take a serious look at that. I have no opinions on this subject otherwise.

BTW, there is no need at all to copy the entire column. You know how to make links. Why not make one more?