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Out of the Frying Pan and Into Your Body: PFCs

January 30, 2011

PFCs are  perfluorinated compounds, and diving into the literature of PFCs I came across a confusing array of acronyms– PFOA, PFOS, PTFE, PFCAs,  PAPs… Ugh.  Don’t stop reading now, though– I promise I won’t bore  you with too many details.

Based on the title, you might have an idea that I may be talking about Teflon.  Bingo– that’s PTFE.  And PFOA is used in the Teflon manufacturing process.   PFOA has been found in the bloodstream of about 98% of Americans and in wildlife such as polar bears and ringed seals.  It has also been linked to cancer, hypothyroidism, immune system problems, reproductive problems (infertility), and birth defects (read this  Environmental Working Group article for the details.)

Although DuPont (the manufacturer of Teflon) has insisted otherwise, it is very likely when you heat up your non-stick pan it is going to reach temperatures that cause it to release toxic and carcinogenic compounds.  There are many documented cases of birds dying from being in the kitchen while non-stick cookware was in use, and although humans rarely show immediate effects (there are cases of something called “polymer fume fever” related to overheated Teflon) why expose yourself to another potential source of cancer on a regular basis?   For years I’ve been living in field houses and not in control of my cookware choices– I have very clear memories making stir-fry in a very scratched up non-stick frying pan in Florida and of serving marshmallow squares with flakes of Teflon embedded in the bottom in Arizona.  But apparently I wasn’t overly concerned, as when I moved into my own apartment I had several Teflon-coated frying pans and a wok.   But finally spurred out of complacency by a chapter in Slow Death by Rubber Duck, I recently have replaced them all with new “green” ceramic-coated non-stick frying pans that contain no PFCs.  There are other more traditional options available, such as cast-iron.  If you are interested in detailed information on your PFC-free choices,  Adria Vasil’s Ecoholic Home is an excellent resource.  I feel more  comfortable now that everytime that I saute some mushrooms I’m not reducing my chances of becoming a mother.

Cookware isn’t your only source of exposure.  More of those acronyms, PFCAs and PAPs need to be addressed.  The short version of the story is that those have to do with the grease-proof coatings used on things such as fast-food wrappers and microwave popcorn bags.  When you heat one of those bags of popcorn in the microwave, the chemicals migrate into the oil.  Those chemicals then are metabolized into PFOA in your bloodstream.  This is thought to be one of the most significant sources of PFOA contamination.  So please, stop buying microwave popcorn! I don’t recommend the “pop it in a brown bag” method commonly detailed in numerous places on the internet– that paper bag likely contains things you don’t want to be heating up, either.    If you must microwave, try a glass microwave corn popper.  Or just pop it on the stove.  Either method will reduce packaging waste at the same time as keeping you healthier.

I’m really just skimming the surface here– I won’t start talking about Gore-Tex, Stainmaster, or a host of other products made with PFCs– you can see a sampling of products courtesy of the EWG.  For more reading on the dangers of PFCs, there are chapters in the aforementioned Slow Death by Rubber Duck by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie, as well as in The Body Toxic by Nena Baker.    There is also a good online article by Dr. Joseph Mercola that contains links to a lot of studies.

Do you use Teflon-coated pans?  Do you eat microwave popcorn? What are your plans now?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Sara permalink
    January 31, 2011 9:52 am

    Hi Jillian — I applaud the idea of creating a safer home, and because there’s so much misinformation out there about Teflon, I’m not surprised that you are concerned. I’m a representative of DuPont though, and hope you’ll let me share some information with you and your readers so that everyone can make truly informed decisions.

    Regulatory agencies, consumer groups and health associations all have taken a close look at Teflon. This article highlights what they found — the bottom line is that you can use Teflon without worry.

    I’d truly be glad to share additional information about it if you are interested, and appreciate your consideration of this comment. Cheers, Sara.

  2. January 31, 2011 8:16 pm

    Wait….I think I may have recieved some of those marshmallow squares….crap.

    I bought a new eco-friendly frying pan a few years ago, and it is good, but it isn’t as great as the mighty teflon. Its cool though, because I use my cast iron skillets way more often anyway. You should get some!

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