How bad is Teflon for human health and the environment?

How bad is Teflon for human health and the environment? The harm of Teflon to health: facts and research of scientists. Let’s take a closer look at the harm of Teflon to human health and find out how toxic it is to the environment.

The text will provide many references to authoritative materials and studies on the effects and properties of Teflon.

Teflon is great for cooking in pots and pans. The Teflon coating is non-stick. This is great, but how does Teflon affect your health? What is Teflon?

How bad is Teflon for human health and the environment?
How bad is Teflon for human health and the environment?

After reading the article to the end, you will find out:

  • Origin of Teflon;
  • Is Teflon harmful to humans?
  • The history of Teflon production at DuPont.

Teflon history

Teflon was first created, like many miracle chemicals, in a laboratory accident. In 1938, Roy J. Plunkett, a DuPont chemist, was experimenting with refrigerants when he discovered a white waxy material that was very slippery.  

It was an inert fluorocarbon, polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), which had excellent non-stick and water repellent properties. In 1945, DuPont patented the chemical under the trademark Teflon. The company advertised it as “the slickest stuff in existence.”

How bad is Teflon for human health and the environment?
How bad is Teflon for human health and the environment?

By 1948, DuPont was producing about 1,000 tons of Teflon annually at its Washington, DC plant.

For DuPont, Teflon, which was used to coat pots and pans, proved to be a gold mine. Teflon cookware sales peaked at $ 1,000,000,000 in 2004.

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)

Beginning around 1951, DuPont began using another chemical known as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), or C8 (it contains eight carbon molecules).

An unusually durable chemical, PFOA, first appeared in 1947. Thanks to its non-stick and dirt-repellent properties, its use has spread at an extraordinary rate. 

PFOA is a hydrophobic polymer, meaning that water-containing substances do not adhere to it. It also has one of the lowest coefficients of friction. This gives it the qualities it needs to make excellent non-stick cookware.

A white powdery compound that looks a lot like laundry detergent has been used in hundreds of products, including fast food packaging, waterproof clothing, electrical cables, and more.

Why is Teflon dangerous? The problem is that PFOA causes critical health problems, including cancer, liver and thyroid disease. In addition, PFOA evaporates relatively easily into the air.  

PFOA was brought to DuPont factories mixed with water to keep dust out of the workers’ lungs.

PFOA or C8 is an extremely stable chemical that does not degrade.  Instead, it accumulates in people’s bodies if they drink water or breathe air filled with this substance.  

Due to the widespread use of Teflon, PFOA is present in 99% of people worldwide, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). PFOA has also been found in the blood of animals and fish from the Pacific Ocean to the Arctic and Antarctica. 

PFOA will remain in the environment for the next thousands of years.

DuPont’s Role in Pollution

Concerns about the dangers posed by Teflon and PFOA began to gain public attention about 20 years ago.  

Information revealed from internal company reports indicates that several scientists and senior DuPont employees have known, or at least suspected, that PFOA is harmful for years.  

However, DuPont continued to use the chemical, putting its employees and customers at risk.

In the 1970s, DuPont researchers discovered that PFOA accumulates in the bloodstream of workers. In 1981, the company banned women from working in the Teflon department. This happened after two out of seven pregnant workers gave birth to children with birth defects.  

One of these children, Bucky Bailey, was born with one nostril and other facial deformities.

Bucky Bailey | How bad is Teflon for human health and the environment?
Bucky Bailey | How bad is Teflon for human health and the environment?

However, in the years that followed, DuPont ramped up production instead of reducing its use of PFOA, hiding much of what was known about the health risks of Teflon.  

The company’s Washington plant continued to operate, sending tons of PFOA to landfills, from where it was released into rivers and air. 

None of this would have been known if it hadn’t been for a farmer named Wilbur Tennant, who sued DuPont in 1998. He claimed to have lost hundreds of livestock due to environmental pollution.  

As part of the lawsuit, Tennant’s lawyer, Robert Bilott, forced DuPont to provide tens of thousands of pages of internal documents

The materials that were found provided incriminating evidence that the company was covering up the truth about PFOA. 

This information not only helped the Tennant case, which DuPont settled in 2001 for an undisclosed amount. It led to one of the largest class-action lawsuits in environmental law history.

By 2001, while still working on the Tennant case, Bilott realized that PFOA contamination was widespread. The chemical has leaked into the plumbing of six public water supplies in Ohio, USA.  

Ditching PFOA

In 2004, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also filed a lawsuit against DuPont, accusing it of withholding PFOA data.  

In 2005, the company agreed to pay $ 16.5 million in an amicable settlement with the EPA. But under the terms of the agreement, DuPont was not even obliged to withdraw PFOA from the market. The best agreement was reached on a voluntary phase-out of PFOA by 2015.

This is despite the fact that the scientific group, based on the results of large-scale studies, associated PFOA with 6 diseases :

  • Ulcerative colitis; 
  • Pregnancy-induced hypertension;
  • High blood cholesterol;
  • Thyroid disease;
  • Testicular cancer;
  • Kidney cancer.  

Since 2015, DuPont and other chemical firms have started selling PFOA- free Teflon. Recent studies show that the level of PFOA in the blood of people is dropping.  

Unfortunately, the new chemicals that have replaced C8 are also caused for concern. And the effect of Teflon on the human body remains a mystery

“These next generation PFCs [perfluorinated chemicals] are used in greaseproof food packaging, waterproof clothing and other products. Few of them have been tested for safety, and their names, composition and health effects are hidden as trade secrets. “

Excerpt from EWG report

PFOA at home

A study by the EWG found that exposure to PFOA is 1,300 times more harmful than previously recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In about 5 minutes, the Teflon-coated pot heats up to about 400 ºC. The release of PFOA begins at about this temperature.

According to the EWG, the thermal decomposition of older generation Teflon (up to 2015) leads to the formation of many toxic compounds. Including highly corrosive and deadly gases, as well as PFIB (perfluoroisobutylene), a chemical warfare agent that is 10 times more deadly than phosgene (a poisonous gas used in world wars).  

How toxic is Teflon in pans?

Once scratched, the Teflon layer of the pans will inevitably deteriorate. That is, Teflon will go into your food and then into your body. This applies to dishes produced both before 2015 and after.

How toxic is Teflon in pans? How bad is Teflon for human health and the environment?
How toxic is Teflon in pans? How bad is Teflon for human health and the environment?

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), Teflon and PFOA are among the most persistent chemicals in the world. Their toxic legacy will survive each of us and the next 25 generations of our descendants.  

Ironically, Teflon will shorten the lifespan of every generation.

Among other things, the toxicity of Teflon causes polymer smoke fever in humans. It is accompanied by temporary and intense flu-like symptoms.  

There are only a few known cases where people were admitted to the hospital due to overheated Teflon. But since the fever is similar to the flu, it is very difficult for doctors to determine the origin of the disease and identify the health risks of Teflon.

Polymer fever is caused solely by exposure to Teflon degradation products. 

Teflon kills birds

PFOA is best known for its toxicity to birds. The effect is known as Teflon Toxicosis. Birds’ lungs bleed, filling with fluid and leading to suffocation.  

Safe alternatives to Teflon cookware

For a safer, more reliable alternative to Teflon, use the following time-tested food preparation methods.

Stainless steel

Stainless steel is one of the most inert metals. Although it has been reported to leach small amounts of chromium and nickel. This can be problematic for people who are allergic to chromium or nickel.

It’s worth noting that All-Clad cookware uses a copper/aluminum interlayer between stainless steel. This provides a higher and more uniform thermal conductivity while keeping the food free from copper or aluminum toxicity. 

Cast iron cookware

Cast iron pans work just as well as non-stick pans when properly aged. The more oil accumulates on cast iron pans, the greater the non-stick effect.  

Cast iron pots and pans have been used for centuries. They are low maintenance, inexpensive, and add iron to the diet.

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