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DuPont's Teflon Cover up

By Kenneth Barbalace
[Wednesday, March 22, 2006]
Teflon® is in household products we use every day, from the coatings on our non-stick pots and pans to the stain resistant coating on the clothes we wear, but evidence is coming to light that this miracle chemical is not as safe as DuPont has lead us to believe. Court records and internal documents have shown that DuPont® has been covering up the true dangers of Teflon for decades.


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Anonymous said...

Interesting article, with potentially very serious implications for people and our environment. I use teflon labware a lot and was therefore curious about its stability and widespread use as a household material. However, I was wondering if you could clarify some issues - in particular the toxicity of the various breakdown/precursor products relative to their environmental concentrations. You list a lot of chemicals with names that look frightening to lay-people. You state that many have potentially toxic effects, but do not tell us at what levels these chemicals are believed to be toxic relative to the levels found in the environment/workers/home. It is very hard to make a realistic assessment of the risk unless this information is known. Without it, people resort to a fearful instinctive response, and not a rational balancing of risks. For example - birds died in DuPont experiments at 536 °F, but how does this compare with a home-cooking environment? Were the birds kept in a small sealed enclosure while teflon was heated for hours in their presence? The concentrations of break-down gasses in an experiment like this could be many orders of magnitude above what might be experienced in an average home cooking situation (ventilated room, short heating times). Many animal tests specifically expose animals to very very high levels of potential toxic agents, simply because toxic effects do not appear at lower levels - take the lab-rat experiment you describe where the lab-rats showed birth defects when 'fed' C-8 via stomach tube. Feeding by stomach tube would imply that the animals were being exposed to very high concentrations - equivalent of eating C-8 undiluted. Likewise, chemical-warfare analog molecules like PFIB are detected at higher heating, but at what levels? Sensitive analytical equipment these days can measure parts per trillion of some materials. What were the actual concentrations, and at what levels do these chemicals have a toxic response in humans? These are but a few examples where a little more information would really help a reader to gauge the realistic level of danger that DuPont's cover-up will have exposed the general population to.

Ken (EnvironmentalChemistry.com) said...

I have forwarded your comment on to the author of the DuPont cover up article and hope to have a reply to your questions posted in the near future.

Ken (EnvironmentalChemistry.com) said...

The following is a response to the above questions from Roberta Barbalace who was the author of our DuPont coverup article:


The toxicity to biurds were pet birds that happened to be in a room or ajacent room to where teflon cookware was being heated.

The following is from http://www.ewg.org/reports/toxicteflon/toxictemps.php

Bird deaths have been documented during or immediately after the following normal cooking scenarios:

* New Teflon-lined Amana oven was used to bake biscuits at 325°F; all the owner's baby parrots died [3] [4].

* Four stovetop burners, underlined with Teflon-coated drip pans, were preheated in preparation for Thanksgiving dinner; 14 birds died within 15 minutes [2] [5].

* Nonstick cookie sheet was placed under oven broiler to catch the drippings; 107 chicks died [2].

* Self-cleaning feature on the oven was used; a $2,000 bird died [5].

* Set of Teflon pans, including egg poaching pan, were attributed to seven bird deaths over seven years [6].

* Water burned off a hot pan; more than 55 birds died [7].

* Electric skillet at 300°F and space heater were used simultaneously; pet bird died [8].

* Toaster oven with a non-stick coating was used to prepare food at a normal temperature; bird survived but suffered respiratory distress [9].

* Water being heated for hot cocoa boiled off completely; pet bird died [10].

* Grill plate on gas stove used to prepare food at normal temperatures; two birds died
on two separate occasions [11].

The following website shows what fumes are released at what temperatures and the effects on birds - http://www.ewg.org/reports/toxicteflon/tempgraphic.php

I will have to get back to you on EPA permissible limits.

Anonymous said...

Hello Ken, Roberta. Thank you very much for posting that additional information about bird deaths - that is quite alarmning.

Ken (EnvironmentalChemistry.com) said...

I received the following is an email question I received and my response in regards to what to use instead of Teflon/non-stick cookware

> SUBJECT: alternatives to Teflon cookware
> Message:
> Do you have any recommendations for safer cookware to Teflon pots?

A few weeks ago we threw away our Teflon/non-stick pots and pans (they were getting old anyways) and replaced them with stainless steel pots and pans that had a copper/aluminum cladding on the bottom to more efficiently spread heat. We also have some cast iron fry pans which have always been my favorite pans to cook in.

I personally find that my cast iron fry pans stick less and are easier to clean than my "non-stick" fry pans ever were. The catch is that cast iron fry pans need to build up "seasoning" or a patina and they shouldn't be washed in the dish washer. One great thing about cast iron fry pans is that they are so cheap yet cook so well.

Overall, we are finding our stainless steel and cast iron cookware cooks nicer than our "non-stick" cookware, are just as easy to clean and we are no longer worry about scratching/ruining the surface.

The following method to season pans and woks came from Food TV's website (http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/ck_culinary_qa/article/0,1971,FOOD_9796_4152034,00.html):

Rub the inside with a light coating of oil, and heat the wok over a medium flame for about an hour, reapplying oil every 20 minutes. After cooking, wash it only with hot water, and dry thoroughly on the stovetop before putting it away. If you're using the wok/pan for wet cooking, like braising or poaching, reseason it every so often to maintain its non-stickness.

As a pan builds up a patina it will begin to cook better and better. The object is never to try to clean the inside of the pan back to the shiny look it had when it was new. Let it discolor on the inside and build of a patina of cooked on oil. The best thing about not using Teflon coated pans is that you can use whatever utensils you want because you are not worried about scratching the delicate surface. This will allow you to use thinner metal spatulas that can get under food better than thicker plastic utensils that are safe for non-stick pans.

The pans we bought were the "Emerilware 10-Piece Stainless Cookware Set" for just under $200 (http://store.foodnetwork.com/shop/product.asp?product_code=4253). We never watch Emeril's cooking show (I find him annoying), but his were the only stainless steel pans we could find with a copper clad bottom and glass lids that were also dishwasher/oven safe in the price range we wanted at our local stores. I found his pans both at Linens and Things and at Bed Bath and Beyond for the same price as listed online.

While I'm hand washing the fry pans, we are too lazy to hand wash the other pots & pans and are throwing them in the dishwasher. They have been coming clean very nicely even in the dishwasher.

If you aren't used to cooking in pots and pans with a thick copper/aluminum cladding on the bottom, make sure to reduce your heat when cooking from what you are used to using. Because they transfer heat better and cook more evenly, pans with a heavy cladding on the bottom don't require as much energy from the burners.

Happy Cooking,
Ken Barbalace

Anonymous said...

This TEFLON issue is a frightening indicator of how the profit motive is allowed to override concerns for individual people. I would guess that there are untold real dangers to people being consealed by businesses or with or without some government knowledge. It is high time people were properly informed about these matters,and time directors and politicians were held personally responsible if they conseal information regarding hazards to people.

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