Teflon is a household name, found in many homes as the cookware of choice. It is easy to understand why. Non-stick pots, pans and bakeware are extremely convenient to use and of course to clean. Who wants to spend hours scrubbing cooked on food off after cooking a meal?
Teflon is the trademarked name for the chemical Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). It is used in a variety of ways, because it is very non-reactive, due to the strength of the carbon-flourine bonds. It is also ‘hydrophobic’ meaning that it cannot be wet by water.
It is therefore a popular choice for cook-ware, as well as stain resistant clothes (such as school uniform) and stain resistant carpets. PTFE is also used as a repellant of grease in food wrap, and containers including pizza boxes and microwave popcorn bags.
It is in widespread use, and has been since the 1940s, so why are we worried about it all of a sudden?
Manufacturers of Teflon have always advised that their cookware should not be heated to extremely high temperatures. They have maintained that the coatings on pans and other products will not emit hazardous chemicals through normal use. “significant decomposition of the coating will occur only when temperatures exceed about 660 degrees F (340 degrees C). These temperatures alone are well above the normal cooking range.”
However, the following quote taken from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) suggests otherwise:
In new tests conducted by a university food safety professor, a generic non-stick frying pan preheated on a conventional, electric stovetop burner reached 736°F in three minutes and 20 seconds, with temperatures still rising when the tests were terminated. A Teflon pan reached 721°F in just five minutes under the same test conditions, as measured by a commercially available infrared thermometer.
DuPont studies show that the Teflon off-gases toxic particulates at 446°F.
At 680°F Teflon pans release at least six toxic gases, including two carcinogens, two global pollutants, and MFA, a chemical lethal to humans at low doses.
At temperatures that DuPont scientists claim are reached on stovetop drip pans (1000°F), non-stick coatings break down to a chemical warfare agent known as PFIB, and a chemical analog of the WWII nerve gas phosgene.
So in just two to five minutes of normal stovetop use, the coating breaks down to a point at which it releases toxic chemicals into the environment – which is typically your kitchen. The other concern is that particles of PTFE can flake off, but it is thought that this does not cause harm when ingested as the chemical is inert when solid.
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