TEFLON: A Poisonous Chemical in your Kitchen


Poly Tetra Fluoro Ethylene (PTFE) is a synthetic fluoropolymer of tetra fluoro ethylene. PTFE is a fluorocarbon solid, as it is a high-molecular-weight compound consisting wholly of carbon and fluorine. PTFE is hydrophobic: neither water nor water-containing substances wet PTFE. There are hidden health dangers lurking in your kitchen – and it’s not the germy sponges or mouldy foods. It’s the toxic cookware in your cabinet. Certain kinds of kitchenware could be discharging toxic fumes and chemicals into your food. Over time these foreign substances can build up in your body, potentially damaging your health. Keri Glassman, a certified nutritionist and founder of Nutritious Life in New York City, says there are safe alternatives to avoid these potential risks.

PTFE is used as a non-stick coating for pans and other cookware. It is non-reactive, partly because of the strength of carbon–fluorine bonds. Non-stick pans are one of people’s favourite cooking tools; they are easy to use and clean, and they don’t require a lot of oil to grease the surface. As popular as these convenient pans are, many people are unaware about the toxic coating that forms the non-stick surface.

“There’s a whole chemistry set of compounds that will come off when Teflon is heated high enough to decompose”. “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. If the danger begins when pans overheat, then how hot is too hot? “At temperatures above 500ºF, 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 Centre. DuPont, inventor and manufacturer of Teflon, agrees that 500 degrees is the recommended maximum for cooking.

Teflon, also known as PTFE, is a brand name for the special coating on non-stick pans. When these pans are overheated or left on the stove too long, the PTFE sometimes releases toxic fumes, which studies have shown can cause flu-like symptoms in humans and can be fatal to birds. As long as they’re not overheated. When they are, the coating may begin to break down (at the molecular level, so you wouldn’t necessarily see it), and toxic particles and gases, some of them carcinogenic, can be released.  Also of less concern than previously believed: the danger of non-stick pans exposing the family to PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid). A chemical used to manufacture the fluoropolymers that make up non-stick cookware’s coating, PFOA is associated with tumours and developmental problems in animals, a study at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found an association between PFOA exposure and small decreases in head circumference and body weight in infants (except those born by caesarean section)

Non-stick cookware can also leach another toxic element directly into your food. The chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which is used in the making of PTFE, has been denounced by many experts for its carcinogenic properties. Additionally, some research has shown that the chemical can increase the risk of high cholesterol levels, thyroid disease and infertility. Some experts argue that the amount of harmful chemicals and fumes from non-stick pans are not enough to make you seriously ill.  According to their regulations, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states PTFE as a coating is safe when used properly. But scientists are still indefinite on just how dangerous PFOA is to our health and more conclusive research is needed.

PFOA is still a concern, it’s unlikely that we get most of our exposure from the use of non-stick pans. Sources of PFOA are everywhere: in microwave-popcorn bags, fast-food packaging, shampoo, carpeting, and clothing. Studies show that most of us have PFOA in our bloodstreams, and babies show trace amounts at birth. The FDA has tested non-stick pans to evaluate the danger of PFOA exposure to humans. “What we found was that the manufacturing process used to make those pans drives off the PFOA,” says Honigfort, meaning that the chemical evaporates. “The risk to consumers is considered negligible.”

Alternatives for Teflon:

Heavy cast iron pans: Are safest pans (in terms of toxicity) you can find. Cast iron does not leach any toxic chemicals into your food – the only thing it can release is iron – which can actually be a good thing.

Stainless Steel

While cookware made of high-quality stainless steel is generally considered one of the best options out there if you’re looking for non-toxic cookware, non-corrosive.

Green Pan:

Is a higher-end Belgian brand that makes non-stick, non-toxic cookware coated with Thermolon – a ceramic non-stick layer derived from sand. It contains no lead, cadmium, PFAS, or PFOA, like other non-stick pans can


Glass is terrific for cookware, though it’s primarily available as a pot, rather than a skillet, and as baking pans, pie pans and casserole dishes. It’s non reactive, affordable.


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