Teflon-coated cookware now looks back on an approximately 50-year-old kitchen history. As for cooking professionals, chefs and foodservice professionals, in particular, appreciate the practical pot and pan coating, as it makes burnt and glued food almost impossible. What’s more, Teflon makes it easier to clean – a definite advantage in a profession where there is a lot of dirt and high time pressure when preparing different foods. Despite all the positive benefits, however, the possible health problems that may possibly arise from Teflon coatings are often hotly debated. The circumstances that cause these health concerns are discussed in more detail below.
Long-lasting pollutants and their health effects
The term Teflon per se in chemistry refers to the plastic polymer polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), which consists of fluorine and carbon. In particular, the commercial name was registered by DuPont, a US chemical company founded in 1802 as an explosives company. Throughout the history of the company, DuPont has been involved in other areas of chemical, energy and material production and is now one of the largest chemical companies in the world. From agriculture, nutrition, health, electronics and textiles to the construction industry, DuPont products are now to be found in all areas – including in the gastronomy sector. However, it is also the success story based on chemical manufacturing that is calling for Teflon’s health and environmental protection organizations. And rightly so, because Teflon is one of the so-called fluoropolymers, a special group of chemical compounds for whose industrial production perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is needed.
Synthetically produced perfluorooctanoic acid is one of the perfluorinated surfactants (PFTs), a range of long-lasting organic pollutants that can not be broken down by nature. They are used in chemistry-based industries in all kinds of fields, such as in
- The photographic and paper industry (production of dirt and water repellent surfaces)
- Electroplating (metal processing)
- Aeronautical Engineering (Object Coatings)
- The textile industry (production of outdoor clothing)
However, the versatility of perfluorooctanoic acid often misleads the danger that surfactants have for years been in dire suspicion of being harmful to health. Already in 2006 allegations were made by Greenpeace, which pointed to the health risks of the substances. For their study “Beware of chips: hot, greasy and poisonous”, the organization examined French fries from several German cities and found in all samples questionable residues of dangerous surfactants, which are said to damage long-term genetic material, as well as carcinogenic properties. In the same year, Greenpeace also drew attention to the dangerously high PFT content of the Bavarian river Alz, which is heavily polluted with chemicals due to wastewater from the nearby Gendorf industrial park. Even the Federal Environment Agency could not completely exclude the genotoxic and biotoxic dangers of PFT in its opinion at that time, which proves that perfluorinated substances, as they are also found in Teflon, literally with caution.
What scratched the image of the Teflon pan
What makes Teflon-containing polytetrafluoroethylene so dangerous for consumers is primarily the high cooking temperatures. The result is based on researchers from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) who, contrary to statements by DuPont, discovered that the polymeric coating cannot easily withstand temperatures up to 260 ° C without toxic fumes. In fact, the Teflon separated toxic particles from a constant heat input of 237 ° C and took no more than two to five minutes for this reaction. What this emanation of the cookware can do is extremely alarming:
- Organ damage in humans and animals:
Since the toxins contained in Teflon cannot be broken down by nature and the body, they permanently deposit in the organs and cause a creeping poisoning of the entire organism. The toxic effect can increase the risk of tumor formation in animals as well as in humans, adversely affect thyroid function or damage the immune system and the reproductive organs.
- the increased mortality rate in animals:
In particular, ornamental birds kept indoors, such as canaries, are the first to feel the health risk posed by PTFE vapors. Since their sensitive organism, especially the respiratory system, are extremely sensitive to pollutants, a PTFE poisoning can have deadly consequences for the feathered friends within a very short time. Similar effects have been observed by Greenpeace on fish stocks in Alz.
- Malformations in newborns:
Similar to radioactive radiation, it has been proven that PTFE also has a very dangerous effect on the genetic material. However, a 1981 in-house study that found that children of DuPont employees who came into contact with perfluorooctanoic acid, an increased malformation rate had, but was concealed by the Group.
A toxic conclusion
Given all these risks and the fact that in America already 95% of the population carry high levels of PTFE in their blood, Teflon coated cookware does not really seem to be the best choice. Therefore, put your own and your children’s health in front of the uncomplicated cooking and resort to traditional pans and pots. If you still use Teflon pans, however, make sure that the material is not overheated and that the heat input does not exceed 237°C.