by Dan Eden for Viewzone

When I was a kid, we had a blue and green parakeet named "Wardie." He could squack his name and was fond of sitting on our shoulder in the kitchen near his open cage when we ate.

One afternoon I skipped school and doubled back to the house. Both of my parents were at work and wouldn't be home until dinner time. It was just me and Wardie.

I decided to cook a hotdog in the new "miracle" non-stick pan that Mom had just bought. I set the electric burner to "HI" to warm up the pan and dashed into the livingroom where I had a movie on the TV.

I can't remember what it was, but it must have been interesting. After a couple of minutes I smelled something metallic. I ran to the stove and turned the burner off. There was no smoke. The pan had a dark brown stain that wouldn't wash away. I was in trouble now. I took it out back and hid it in the woods.

I was feeling the guilt of missing school and ruining Mom's new pan when I noticed that Wardie was lying motionless on the bottom of his cage. He was dead.

When my folks returned from work they were so upset about Wardie that they didn't even notice the pan was missing. I somehow knew that I had killed him, but until now I never knew how.

Who knew? They knew.

It turns out that someone already knew how Wardie died, along with thousands of other small pets. They knew, but they kept it quiet.

To be fair, for about 50 years scientists from DuPont have published studies documenting the temperatures at which non-stick cookware coatings begin to break apart, releasing toxins into the air. They observed multiple cases of teflon flu in their workers. Two of eight women working on the early Teflon production line gave birth to seriously deformed babies.

DuPont and private labs conducted a series of studies beginning in the 1950s to identify the toxic components from heated Teflon. They killed many birds and rats in efforts to understand the potency of the gases and particles. Yet they posted no warnings on the pots, pans and kettles that could be expected to impact the public.

Teflon Flu?

DuPont is on record admitting that humans can also become "sick" when the pan is heated to high temperatures. According to a DuPont spokesperson, "You get some fumes, yes, ... and you get a flu-like symptom, which is reversible." Symptoms include headaches, chills, backache, and a temperature between 100 and 104 degrees. While not on the pans themselves, the "flu" warning is on the DuPont Web site.

4. Are fumes from overheated non-stick coated cookware harmful to people?

DuPont:The fumes that are released by overheated polymer can produce symptoms referred to as "polymer fume fever" - flu-like symptoms that are relatively quickly reversed in humans but can be fatal to the very sensitive respiratory systems of birds. Over the past 40 years, there is only one published account of a minor health effect, reversible flu-like symptoms, as a result of severely overheating non-stick cookware. Butter, fats, and cooking oils will begin to smoke at approximately 400°F (204°C), producing fumes that can irritate eyes, nose and throat and possibly cause respiratory distress. DuPont non-stick coatings will not begin to deteriorate in appearance or performance until the temperature of the cookware reaches about 500°F (260°C). The coating will not show significant decomposition unless temperatures exceed about 660°F (349°C).

5. Are fumes from overheated non-stick cookware hazardous to birds?

DuPont:Because birds have extremely sensitive respiratory systems, bird owners must take precautions to protect them. Cooking fumes, smoke and odors that have little or no effect on people can seriously sicken and even kill birds, often quite quickly. Cooking fumes from any type of unattended or overheated cookware, not just non-stick, can damage a bird's lungs with alarming speed. This is why bird owners should take steps to protect their pets, such as keeping their birds out of the kitchen, never leaving cookware unattended, never allowing pots and pans to overheat, and making sure that their kitchen is properly ventilated at all times.


PFOA: A Proven Carcinogen

The toxicity doesn't come from Teflon directly, but mainly from one of the many compounds that are released when the non-stick coating is heated to a high temperature. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), known as C8 (because it has 8 carbon atoms), is a proven carcinogen. Lab studies suggest that PFOA can cause cancer and birth defects in animals, and might pose a risk in humans. PFOA stays in the body for years and in the environment indefinitely.

PFOA molecule.

PFOS molecule.

PFOA is used by DuPont to manufacture its Teflon non-stick coating. PFOS is the active ingredient used for decades in the original formulation of 3M's popular Scotchgard stain and water repellent.

Experiments by the Envoronmental Working Group show that heating the Teflon pan to just 500°F was probably enough to kill Wardie. That temperature is hot enough to release PFOA and other toxic gases, all colorless and odorless. Browning your bacon or hotdog can easily bring the pan temperature to well over 600°F -- and perhaps even higher in "hot spots" that occur where the pot touches the heating element or flame.

Because of Teflon's wide spread use over the last 50 years, you might guess that, by now, PFOA and FPOS should be inside just about every one of us. You would be correct.

PFOA & PFOS in 100% of newborn's blood!

In 2007, the shocking results of a study conducted at the John Hopkin's Medical Center (Bethesda, MD) showed that levels of the toxic PFOA were found in 100% of a sample of almost 300 newborns, delivered at the hospital. Samples of umbilical chord blood were also shown to contain varying levels of PFOS. Asians (6 ng/ml) had the highest concentration, followed by Blacks (5.1 ng/ml) and Whites (4.2 ng/ml). Males babies had higher PFOS and PFOA than females. Obese and underweight mothers had slightly higher concentrations than women of normal weight.[1] Other studies have found that some of the highest levels of PFOA and PFOS have been in children.[2]

Two perfluorinated compounds -- PFOA and PFOS-- were found in virtually all of 299 newborn babies studied in Baltimore, according to scientists from Johns Hopkins University. The results indicate that exposure in the womb to these two chemicals is virtually ubiquitous. Eight other PFCs were detected less frequently.

The saturation of PFOA in human blood has lots of scientists worried. The PFOA molecule does not degrade over time, so every one that is made and released in the environment will continue to be there for an indefinite time. The cumulative levels of PFOA will continue to increase in both the environment and in the human body.

Here's what 3M Scientists -- makers of Scotchguard -- have to say about the persistence of PFOA (which they invented and sold to DuPont) in the environment:

"In 1978 PFOA was confirmed to be completely resistant to biodegradation in a study done by 3M to substantiate a similar finding in a 1972 National Academy of Sciences report [3]. The primary finding of the new 3M study -- '...the results of this study suggest that these chemicals are likely to persist in the environment for extended periods unaltered by microbial catabolism."

"Perfluorinated compounds are extremely resistant to biodegradation... Although compounds with single fluorines have been shown to release fluoride ions as a result of biodegradation, perfluorinated compounds have rarely or never been shown to undergo natural degradation. For this reason, no modification of the perfluoro components of compounds in this study was anticipated." [4]

So how much PFOA can humans tolerate? The answer to this question is not known. Usually a substance will be toxic in proportion to body weight or species -- the heavier the animal, the more toxin needed to cause illness or death. But this is not the case with PFOA. Toxic levels vary with gender, species and length of exposure.

In truth, scientists do not understand the exact method or systems involved with this poison. But they warn against thinking of toxins as something that "turns on" at a certain level. Very low exposure of PFOA, over an extended period of time, may be altering human biology increasingly with each generation. The persistance of the PFOA molecule is the problem without a solution.

How hot is too hot?

Repeated use of Teflon pans and cooking utensils causes the coating to deteriorate. Official documents show ultrafine particles start coming off the pan at 554 degrees Fahrenheit. If they get in to your lungs they can embed in the lining. At 680°F the toxic gases quickly enter the air.

The toxic gas is a montage of molecular byproducts of perfluorinated compounds (PFC's). Studies show that thermal degradation of Teflon leads to the slow breakdown of the fluorinated polymer and the generation of a litany of toxic fumes including TFE (tetrafluoroethylene), HFP (hexafluoropropene), OFCB (octafluorocyclobutane), PFIB (perfluoroisobutane), carbonyl fluoride, CF4 (carbon tetrafluoride), TFA (trifluoroacetic acid), trifluoroacetic acid fluoride, perfluorobutane, SiF4 (silicon tetrafluoride), HF (hydrofluoric acid), and particulate matter. At least four of these gases are extremely toxic -- PFIB, which is a chemical warfare agent 10 times more toxic than phosgene (COCl2, a chemical warfare agent used during World Wars I and II), carbonyl fluoride (COF2 which is the fluorine analog of phosgene), MFA (monofluoroacetic acid) which can kill people at low doses, and HF, a highly corrosive gas.

Most of these gases are colorless and have no scent. They are in the air long before your pan starts to smoke.

Time To Chuck the Old Pots and Pans?
Don't forget the sofa, carpet, baby's clothes...

Teflon is also known as Stainmaster, Gore-tex, Silverstone... 3M has a similar compound that degrades to PFOA in their Scotchguard fabric treatment. It's in your carpet, sofa, clothes and it coats a wide variety of cooking utensils, appliances and tools. It's all around us and in us.

Even if PFOA were banned today, the global mass of PFOA would continue to rise, and concentrations of PFOA in human blood would likely continue to build. Long after PFOA is banned, other PFC chemicals from 50 years of consumer products will continue to break down into their terminal PFOA end product, in the environment and in the human body. In fact, this warning about PFCs may be too late.

One of the biggest mistakes the chemical industry has ever made!

Referring to teflon applied to clothing as a stain guard, Jane Houlihan, vice president for research at the Environmental Working Group, an activist organization said,

"In retrospect, this may seem like one of the biggest, if not the biggest, mistakes the chemical industry has ever made... Those chemicals can absorb directly through the skin."

On the opposite side of the argument, Uma Chowdry, DuPont's VP of research and development said, "We are confident when we say that the facts, the scientific facts, demonstrate that the material is perfectly safe to use." She claims that the substance is completely safe, despite the fact that the key chemical, C-8, is in everyone's blood.

"We do not believe there are any adverse health effects," she said. "There are lots of chemicals that are present in our blood."

While Dupont has not embraced the idea that Teflon chemicals cause cancer or other human illness or defects, it did recently settle allegations by the EPA on Teflon with a $17 million fine, the largest civil penalty enforced and reached under any federal environmental law. In this case, Teflon chemicals were exposed to many workers and was even found passed by one pregnant woman to her fetus. This suggests that the harm to human health we encounter today will only be intensified in the coming years, as more PFOA is produced and higher levels accumulate in our blood.

How does Teflon work, anyway?

Teflon was discovered by Roy Plunkett in 1938 while he was attempting to develop a new kind of refrigerant (remember CFC's). One of the compounds polymerized while in a storage container and its non-stick properties were soon recognized as unlike any other chemical. The official patent was acquired by DuPont in 1941.

Structurally, Teflon consists of a chain of carbon atoms which, if they are not sticking to eachother, are stuck to fluorine atoms. The flourine atoms are stuck so tightly to the carbon chain that virtually nothing can detach them. As a result, nothing can attach itself to the molecule -- nothing.

One of the initial problems manufacturers of non-stick cookware had was how to make the Teflon stick to the pan. The early process called for the metal pans to be sand blasted, creating microscopic pits and grooves for the Teflon to grip. Later a "glue" was made from the Teflon and three layers were applied, then baked on the metal. This newer process goes by the name Silverstone. Both processes require PFOA and no substitute has yet been announced.

Teflon is used in thousands of different products, from your car to your grandfather's hip joint replacement. It coats pizza boxes, it's on paper and it is now approved for food packaging.

The Teflon molecule can degrade with heat and other environmental or biological conditions, but the product of this degradation is toxic PFOS and PFOA which never breaks down further. It is accumulating in our environment -- always more and more of this man made, toxic molecule in our food, clothes, lungs and blood. And it seems as if no one is listening.

EPA declared PFOA a 'likely carginogen'!

"A manufactured chemical used in making nonstick and stain-resistant products may disrupt important reproductive tissues in pregnant and unborn female mice, according to researchers in North Carolina. A report in the latest edition of the journal Toxicological Sciences was the latest to find possible links between C8, or perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), and problems in animal health, development and reproduction." [Jeff Montgomery, Delaware News Journal.]

On January 2006, the EPA advisory board of 17 scientists unanimously recommended PFOA be labelled a 'likely carcinogen' (a carcinogen is a cancer-causing substance) in humans.

The EPA asked DuPont, and seven other companies that use PFOA in manufacturing processes, to phase out its use. DuPont has agreed to take steps to make sure that by the year 2015, the chemical would not be released into the environment from its manufacturing plants, and will not agree to stop using it, or to stop making Teflon. The problem for Dupont is, as it stands now, it cannot make Teflon without this chemical, though it says it is looking for a substitute.

EPA scientists pull study that found C8 in eggs

Federal researchers have asked a respected scientific journal to pull from its Web site a government-sponsored study that warned Americans could be exposed to C8 and similar chemicals when they eat chicken eggs.

By Ken Ward Jr.

Federal researchers have asked a respected scientific journal to pull from its Web site a government-sponsored study that warned Americans could be exposed to C8 and similar chemicals when they eat chicken eggs.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study, published in Environmental Science & Technology, was the first to find perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, in U.S. chicken eggs.

Originally, EPA scientists cautioned that the study involved a small sample of eggs, but said the results indicated the need for a broader examination of the issue.

"A more comprehensive study should be carried out to have a better understanding of the distribution of the PFCs in chicken eggs and the potential for exposure to various PFCs through the diet," said the study, published online July 23.

Then last week, the EPA scientist who led the study abruptly revealed that his team believes they made a major error. Eggs they tested probably didn't really contain the chemical perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, the scientist said.

"It's just a very, very big embarrassment for us," said Andrew Lindstrom, the study's lead EPA researcher. "As it turns out, we're pretty sure that PFOS is not going to be an issue for the samples we had."

Still, a similar study earlier this year found PFOS in chicken eggs in China, and other scientists have consistently found such chemicals in the eggs of wild birds.

EPA officials scrambled last week to explain problems with the study, and to insist there had been no political or industry involvement in the decision to withdraw the study.

"These things happen," said Suzanne Ackerman, a spokeswoman with EPA's Office of Public Affairs in Washington. "I don't see anything nefarious about it. They made an error. They're going to correct it. The end."

In West Virginia, PFCs are a major issue because the water supplies for thousands of Parkersburg-area residents have been contaminated with the toxic chemical.

For decades, DuPont has used C8 to make Teflon and other products at its Washington Works plant along the Ohio River just south of Parkersburg.

C8 is another name for perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA. PFOA and PFOS are part of a family of PFCs that were widely used in nonstick coatings, stain-resistant fabrics, and food package coatings.

Around the world, researchers are finding that people have C8 and other PFCs in their blood. Evidence continues to mount about the dangers of these chemicals, but U.S. regulators have not set a federal standard for emissions or human exposure.

In January 2006, EPA and industry officials announced a voluntary plan to "phase out" the use of certain PFCs. But results of that program have been mixed, and new studies are raising concerns about the safety of alternative chemicals industry is using.

Scientists are still sorting out how humans are exposed to PFCs, and how long those chemicals may remain in consumer products and the environment. Previous studies have examined drinking water, Teflon pans, food and food packaging, and household dust as potential routes.

Studies have found PFCs in a variety of birds and bird eggs, including gull eggs from Lake Huron, guillemot eggs from the Baltic Sea, and egrets from Lake Shihwa in South Korea. Some studies linked the chemicals to nearby industrial areas, but others noted "widespread distribution" of the chemicals around the globe. Some studies also found an increase in concentrations of PFCs in bird eggs over the last four decades.

Recently, a small number of studies have examined PFC levels in store-bought food in Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom. Those studies have mostly examined chemical concentrations after various foods were mixed together, to try to estimate a typical diet.

The EPA chicken egg study was part of an effort by government researchers in the U.S. to refine methods of testing specific food items individually.

Environmental Toxins Affect the Body's Hormone Systems

According to a report in ScienceDaily (July 6, 2010) Marianne Kraugerud's doctoral research has led to the discovery that individual variants of the environmental pollutants PCB and PFC can affect several of the body's hormone systems in a more complex way than previously supposed. Humans and animals are constantly exposed to these toxins through the food they eat and the air they breathe. Kraugerud concludes that the impact of these pollutants should be taken into account when carrying out risk appraisals of PCB and PFC.

Marianne Kraugerud's thesis studies the effects of different variants of the environmental toxins PCB and PFC on sheep and on cells grown in the laboratory. Her research on sheep is of comparative interest for humans.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) and perfluorinated compounds (PFC) are chemicals that only break down naturally to a very small degree and therefore have a strong tendency to accumulate in the environment. While PCBs are known to be environmental pollutants and have not been legally produced since the 1970s, the use of many PFC variants is rapidly increasing in products such as water-resistant clothing and coatings in saucepans and frying pans.

Marianne Kraugerud's thesis shows the effects of PCB 118 and PCB 153, which are two separate PCB variants with different chemical characteristics. In lambs exposed to these substances while in the womb and via their mother's milk, effects were demonstrated both on the formation of egg cells in the ovaries and on the hormones that control the function of the ovaries in female lambs. Kraugerud also found that sheep foetuses that had been exposed to these PCB variants while in the womb had a diminished ability to produce the vital hormone cortisol.

Through laboratory cell cultures, Kraugerud demonstrated that both PCB and PFC can directly affect the production of steroid hormones. Steroid hormones, including for example oestrogen, testosterone and cortisol, are necessary for maintaining the capacity to reproduce, normal development and normal bodily functions in humans and animals. Since PCBs and PFCs are widespread in the environment and can affect the body's hormone systems in a more complex way than previously supposed, Marianne Kraugerud recommends that these effects are emphasised when risk appraisals on these substances are drawn up.

Marianne Kraugerud, veterinary surgeon, presented her doctoral thesis on 21st June 2010 at The Norwegian School of Veterinary Science. The thesis is entitled: "Endocrine disruption by persistent organic pollutants: effect studies using in vivo and in vitro models."



[1] Determinants of fetal exposure to polyfluoroalkyl compounds in Baltimore, Maryland. - Environ Sci Technol. 2007 Jun 1; 41(11): 3891-7 Apelberg BJ, Goldman LR, Calafat AM, Herbstman JB, Kuklenyik Z, Heidler J, Needham LL, Halden RU, Witter FR

[2] April 5 , 2003. The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio). DUPONT CHEMICAL SHOWING UP IN BLOOD OF CHILDREN, ADULTS. EPA wants to regulate the compound found in many household items. By Michael Hawthorne.

[3] Degradation of Synthetic Organic Molecules in the Biosphere, (NAS 1972). (FC-95 and FC-143).

[4] 3M. 2000. Biodegradation study of PFOS. US Environmental Protection Agency Administrative Record Number AR226-0057.

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Hey Dan,

I discovered something interesting. I have my grandmother's old iron #10 skillet. I only used it a couple of times to cook some skillet corn bread. We moved about 3 months ago and the couple that was living there left behind an old #6 iron skillet. This is smaller than the #10. Not too long ago my little girl wanted some fried eggs. I'm good at cooking them. On a whim I decided to use the small iron skillet. I put a dab of butter in the skillet and cracked an egg into it. I went to flip the egg and to my surprise it moved all over the skillet. I shook the skillet back and forth and it was unbelievably non stick. Better than the Teflon one we have. I've looked at newer iron skillets and the difference between these two old ones is the bottom of the pan on the old one is extremely smooth. I think that is contributing to its non stick of the skillet. Now I use them all the time. Just be sure to use a pot holder to grab the handle because they can get hot. When you're done cooking with them you need to clean them right away. Don't let them sit in the sink with water. They'll start to rust. To get an older one just peruse the antique shops and you'll find one. And they last forever.