Thursday, June 22, 2006

Does Teflon Cause Cancer?

The short answer: we don't know. It causes cancer in lab animals, and "can be fatal to pet birds," reports TIME. But we just don't know what it does to humans.

Let me explain.

When you're cooking with a Teflon coated pan (who doesn't, right?), and it gets hotter than 600 degrees (and how are we supposed to know that?), the coating breaks down and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA for short) is released. Apparently, according to the TIME article, you can get the same effect by "plunging a hot pan into cold water." So, if you do either of these things -- plunge a hot pan in cold water or overheat a pan on the burner -- your pet parakeet gets a dirt nap.

Mixed signals
Despite harm to animals, TIME reports, "no study has proved that cooking with Teflon is harmful to humans." But the EPA isn't taking any chances. In January, the federal agency slapped the "likely human carcinogen" label on PFOA. So that means you should stop using it, right?

Well, not exactly.

"At the present time, EPA does not believe there is any reason for consumers to stop using any consumer or industrial related products that contain PFOA," reports TIME.

My unprofessional, humble advice? Stop using Teflon. Why take a chance? Sure, you need to use a little oil to keep your eggs from sticking to the pan, but I've already done you the favor of finding out what the healthiest oils are. For the record, the TIME piece suggests using a cast-iron skillet. "It's cheaper than a coated pan, it browns food better, and as for the nonstick factor, when properly seasoned, it's nearly as good," read the article.

Other interesting findings from the TIME article:
  • Teflon was accidentally discovered in 1938 by DuPont chemist Roy Plunkett (he was "testing DuPont's refrigerant gas, Freon," when the discovery was made, according to
  • DuPont was cranking out one million pounds of Teflon by 1950
  • "60 percent of all pots and pans in American kitchens are nonstick"
  • "95 percent of Americans have traces of PFOA in their blood"

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.