With all of the cooking you were most likely engaging in last week due to Thanksgiving and the kick-off of the holiday season, were you aware of all of the chemicals you and your food came into contact with? Most of us don’t, which is why I, for one, was shocked when I first learned that something as basic as my non-stick cook pan was potentially emitting dangerous chemicals into the air that I breathed and food that I ate. Lovely, right? Well, it pretty much boils down to a three-letter acronym PFC that stands for perflurochemical. I won’t put you to sleep by explaining the chemical-breakdown of PFCs, but you should know what they are, what they do, and where you can find them.
According to the Environment Working Group, in regards to PFCs, “A flood of disturbing scientific findings since the late 1990s has abruptly elevated PFCs to the rogues gallery of highly toxic, extraordinarily persistent chemicals that pervasively contaminate human blood and wildlife the world over. As more studies pour in, PFCs seem destined to supplant DDT, PCBs, dioxin and other chemicals as the most notorious, global chemical contaminants ever produced. Government scientists are especially concerned because unlike any other toxic chemicals, the most pervasive and toxic members of the PFC family never degrade in the environment.”
Hmmm…..so these things exist in my home?!?! My kitchen?!? My food packaging!??! Unfortunately, yes. “Consumers instantly recognize them as household miracles of modern chemistry, a family of substances that keeps food from sticking to pots and pans, repels stains on furniture and rugs, and makes the rain roll off raincoats. Industry makes use of the slippery, heat-stable properties of these same chemicals to manufacture everything from airplanes and computers to cosmetics and household cleaners.”
Within this lovely family of chemicals are notable ones named PTFEs (a.k.a. Teflon) and PFOAs (used widely in non-stick cookware, coated paper plates, microwave popcorn bags, and food packaging). According to the Environmental Protection Agency, these chemicals are not easily broken down, and have caused cancer, developmental problems, and other negative effects in laboratory animals. I was in horror thinking about how each time I cooked a “healthy” dish in my non-stick pans, I was essentially causing more harm to my body.
What happens with non-stick cookware made from PFOAs and/or PTFEs is the coating begins to break down and release toxins into the air at only 446 degrees Fahrenheit. After about three to five minutes of heating, the pans reach about 680 degrees and they release at least six toxic gasses. So….why are people still cooking with this?!? There is even something called “fume fever” that describes illness symptoms related to exposure these fumes, including chest tightness, shortness of breath, headache, cough, chills, and sore throat.
Shockingly, at least 90% of Americans have PFOA in their blood! The potentially harmful effects of PFCs in general are heightened because exposure is so widespread. Even if all new exposures to PFOA were stopped, it would take over 4 years for the human body to rid itself of only half the PFOA that’s accumulated in the organs and tissues, according to the Environment Working Group.
So, where should you start eliminating this exposure if you are concerned about this issue?
• First is non-stick cookware and many food wraps. I got rid of my non-stick cookware and purchased a set of Green Pan non-stick pans. These are made out of recycled and PTFE/PFOA-free materials. Other safer options include cast-iron (thought of to be the safest alternative), stainless-steel, glass dishes, Corningware, or copper. Now I know this may not be an easy solution for many individuals right now, so perhaps keep your eye out for perhaps one piece at a time you can start to use to reduce exposure. If you do get rid of your non-stick pans, you can turn them in to be recycled. See here how to do so.
• Reduce/eliminate use of products designed to repel soil, grease and water, such as carpet and furniture treatments/stain guards.
• Food wraps (microwave popcorn bags are some of the worst offenders! The FDA found that microwave popcorn bags are treated with more PFC coating than any other food wrappers). Try using parchment paper, aluminum foil (recycled is better), glass containers, or even layered cheese cloths to cover food rather than plastic wrap. Be aware of purchased foods, too – many of these come in chemical-laden packaging (fast foods are big offenders; another reason to avoid them).
• Protective sprays for leather, shoes, and clothing (yes, some stains are more worth it!)
• Paint (look for new alternatives that limit use of harmful fumes/chemicals)
• Cleaning products (using “green”/environmentally-friendly options are best… and they are comparable in price and effectiveness!) I could actually write a book on this topic, but will leave you with what I’ve provided and some additional websites that offer more in-depth explanation on the issue. I highly recommend following-up on this issue and learning more about the dangers to the exposure of PFCs: