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Potential Dangers of Chemicals in Cookware

written by: Envirowords•edited by: Sarah Malburg•updated: 1/21/2010

Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) is used in small quantities to make coatings, like Teflon, for non-stick pots and pans. This chemical can pose dangers to human health, but only when significant quantities enter the bloodstream. Find out the true risks and your other options for safe cookware.

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    Non-Stick Cookware

    Non-stick cookware, like Teflon, is composed of numerous man-made chemicals to coat pots and pans to prevent food from sticking during cooking. One of the chemicals used to make non-stick coatings is perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), but non-stick coatings contain only trace amounts of this chemical. Some environmental health specialists suggest that as food is heated in these special pans, PFOA is released from the coating and enters the food which is then eaten by people. It is important to note that only small amounts of PFOA are contained in the composite coatings. However, if your pan's coating is chipped or peeling, higher levels of chemicals will be released into your food and subsequently into your body.

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    Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA)

    Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) has drawn attention from the EPA and other environmental health agencies because it is found in the blood of the general US population and one study done by a University of Massachusetts researcher found the chemical in Mother's breast milk. The breast milk study found that the levels of PFOA increased in the breast milk over six months of feeding. The researcher suggested that increased food intake cooked on non-stick pots was the likely source. While no health affects have been demonstrated in humans, PFOA has been the source of developmental problems in lab animals.

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    EPA Policy on PFOA

    The EPA has been working with chemical industry representatives to phase our PFOA manufacture and use. The manufacturing of PFOA spews harmful emissions into the atmosphere which may be the significant source of this chemical in blood and breast milk samples as it is ingested through respiration. PFOA lasts a long time in the environment and can reach humans through other pathways, for example in our drinking water or as residue on fruit and vegetables we eat. As for the breast milk study, the metabolic processes that take affect during breast milk production to feed a baby for some time may be the cause of the increased PFOA levels over the six month time period analyzed.

    For these reasons combined with uncertainty about the human health impacts, EPA and corporations, like Dupont the manufacturer of Teflon, have decided to phase out PFOA by 2015.

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    Safe Cookware

    Trace levels of PFOA in non-stick pans and uncertain health risks may alleviate concerns about this chemical in cookware but we all want to feel absolutely certain we are doing the most to keep ourselves and our families as safe as possible especially when it comes to nutrition. So, what is the safest cookware? Ceramic cookware is probably the safest to use only when produced in the United States or countries with strict regulations on the mineral content of the ceramic clay used. Some ceramic clay contains lead and other harmful chemicals. Most are burned off during the firing process or will never be released during cooking, but to be truly safe, chose ceramic cookware certified as produced with clean clay.

    The EPA and manufacturers are phasing out the use of PFOA. It has not been verified that PFOA problems occur in humans nor that non-stick cookware is the source. But, If you do not like to take a "wait and see" attitude, switch to ceramic cookware produced with clean clay. Although they do not produce cookware, the Homer Laughlin China Company, a US manufacturer does produce green ceramic china. Most companies will promote their green attributes, just do a little research before buying your cookware.

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    References

    EPA

    http://www.epa.gov/oppt/pfoa/pubs/stewardship/index.html

    University of Massachusetts

    http://www.umass.edu/loop/talkingpoints/articles/74700.php