Non-Stick Pan Health Risks
Are they Safe?
You may or may not have a non-stick pan at home. If you do, you may be wondering about non-stick pan health risks. Before you cook next time on your non-stick pan, you should look into the safety, and risks that are associated with your pan.
According to the University of Pittsburgh Robert L. Wolke Ph.D, a professor emeritus of chemistry and the author of What Einstein Told His Cook 2: The Sequel: Further Adventures in Kitchen Science: The Sequel v. 2, he stated that: as long at the pan is not overheated.
When the pan is overheated, the Teflon coating may begin to break down (at the molecular level, so you wouldn’t necessarily see it), and toxic particles and gasses, some of them carcinogenic, can be released. As you can see in the picture above, non-stick pan health can be be affected by this breakdown of chemistry.
There’s a whole chemistry set of compounds that will come off when Teflon is heated high enough to decompose” says Wolke. “Many of these are flourine-containing compounds, which as a class are generally toxic.”
“There’s a whole chemistry set of compounds that will come off when Teflon is heated high enough to decompose,” says Wolke. “Many of these are fluorine-containing compounds, which as a class are generally toxic.”
But fluoropolymers, the chemicals from which these toxic compounds come, are a big part of the coating formula — and the very reason that foods don’t stick to non-stick pans.
If the danger begins when pans overheat, then how hot is too hot? “At temperatures above 500 degrees Fahrenheit, the breakdown begins and smaller chemical fragments are released,” explains Kurunthachalam Kannan, Ph.D., an environmental toxicologist at the New York State Department of Health’s Wadsworth Center. DuPont, inventor and manufacturer of Teflon, agrees that 500 degrees is the recommended maximum for cooking. Any higher temperature could seriously affect the non-stick pan health and pose a serious risk.
What are the Health Risks associated with Non-stick Frying Pans?
How fast will a non-stick pan reach 500 degrees Fahrenheit, the point at which its coating can start to decompose and pose a health risk?
The Good Housekeeping Research Institute put three pieces of non-stick cookware to the test: a cheap, lightweight pan (weighing just 1 lb., 3 oz.); a midweight pan (2 lbs., 1 oz.); and a high-end, heavier pan (2 lbs., 9 oz.).
We cooked five dishes at different temperatures on a burner that’s typical in most homes. The results: Even we were surprised by how quickly some of the pans got way too hot.
At very high temperatures — 660 degrees Fahrenheit and above — pans may more significantly decompose, emitting fumes strong enough to cause polymer-fume fever, a temporary flu-like condition marked by chills, headache, and fever. (The fumes won’t kill you — but they can kill pet birds, whose respiratory systems are more fragile.) No doubt the non-stick pan health risks are high.
At 680 degrees Fahrenheit, Teflon releases at least six toxic gases, including two carcinogens, according to a study by the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit watchdog organization. “However, even if those gases are formed, the odds that you’re going to breathe enough of them to be sick are low,” says Wolke, a point corroborated by several of the experts we interviewed. What no one has yet researched is whether overheating these pans regularly for a prolonged period might have long-term effects.
What are the Health Hazards?
Non-stick frying pans pose a health hazard just by being in your kitchen. Non-stick frying pans release chemicals linked to liver disease and cancer into the environment when exposed to heat. Scientists who tested Teflon and other similar substances used to coat frying pans and ovens have called for a serious examination of the products.
They found that one of the cocktail of substances emitted was perfluoro acid, which accumulates in human tissue and which has been linked by other studies to liver disease and cancer. Researchers also found that Teflon produces trifluoroacetic acid ‘at an incredible rate’. High concentrations of this substance take decades to degrade in water and it can be poisonous to plants. Trace amounts of ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were also found by the team from the University of Toronto.
Researcher Dr David Ellis said: ‘We know that these compounds do not easily degrade and therefore we need to know more about what effect they are having. We have raised the question and pointed out the possible problems. Safety concerns are concentrated on the build-up of the compounds in the environment.”
The authors warn the continued use of Teflon could ‘become an issue’ because of the limited knowledge of the chemicals’ lasting effects. Fellow researcher Dr Scott Mabury said: ‘We’re using compounds that will persist in the environment for very long periods.’
He called for more research into their effect on human health. DuPont, which makes Teflon, said the material did not decompose at the sort of temperatures used for domestic cooking.
A spokesman said: “DuPont non-stick coatings will not begin to deteriorate until the temperature of the cookware reaches 500 Fahrenheit. As a comparison, fats, butter and cooking oils begin to scorch and smoke at about 392 Fahrenheit.”
Environmental hazards: Manufacturing PFCs and the consumer products that contain them poses great risks to the environment and wildlife. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says PFCs present “persistence, bioaccumulation, and toxicity properties to an extraordinary degree.”
What can be done to Avoid these Dangers?
There are a growing amount of new cookware options on the market such as Stone Frying Pans. We have hand selected a list of stone frying pan trusted brands that are kitchen tested and PFOA free.
Before you ditch your scratched-up non-stick frying pan, check out your city’s recycling guidelines or give its recycling hotline a call.
Old non-stick pots and pans cannot be placed in your blue bin. Chances are you will need to drop them off at a depot that accepts scrap metal.
With safer alternative cookware out there, Teflon-coated cookware just isn’t worth the risk. Switch to more eco-friendly options today such as Stone Frying Pans.