- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Choosing to cook with nonstick pots and pans is not a cancer risk, but opting out of a fruit- and plant-based diet and a regular exercise program can be, says Karen Collins, a registered dietitian and nutrition adviser for the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR).

Consumers are worried about whether it is safe to use Teflon and other nonstick cookware because of news reports linking the products with cancer.

“Sometimes there is a cancer panic. We’ve seen that repeatedly with a variety of substances,” Ms. Collins says, speaking on behalf of AICR, a nonprofit agency in Northwest that fosters research on diet and cancer and educates the public about the results. “The issue is for more research, not a call for consumer action,” she says.

Ms. Collins recommends using nonstick cookware appropriately and avoiding putting it on excessively high heat or empty over a burner, which can cause damage to the product.

Several government agencies agree with Ms. Collins that nonstick pots and pans appear to be safe for cooking.

The synthetic chemical PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid, or C-8) used to make Teflon and other nonstick coatings for cookware is released in the environment during the manufacturing process, presenting a potential carcinogenic risk to human health.

Consumers began to suspect, after news reports that PFOA is found in the blood of most people, that nonstick cookware contains PFOA that can be imparted into cooked foods.

However, the questions over PFOA point to an environmental safety issue, not a consumer one, says David Boothe, global business manager of DuPont Fluoro Products, the strategic business unit of DuPont Co. DuPont Fluoro Products, located in Wilmington, Del., makes the polymers.

“There is no reason for consumers to stop using these products,” he says. “These products are safe to use, and it’s not just DuPont saying this.”

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that consumers continue using nonstick cookware under normal use conditions, says Paul Honigfort, consumer safety officer for the division of food contact notifications for FDA, in the College Park office. The division regulates nonstick cookware and other products where PFOA may be present.

“Our lab analysis shows there won’t be any migration in the food from these coatings,” Mr. Honigfort says.

The use of nonstick cookware does not appear to present an “important exposure to PFOA,” says Charles Auer, director of the Office of Pollution Prevention & Toxics for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Northwest.

The EPA is studying the environmental risks of PFOA and how people can become exposed to it. In 2005, the EPA issued a draft risk assessment to identify the toxicity and potential exposures to the chemical.

“The risk is the assessment of the likelihood of harm to a given chemical,” Mr. Auer says.

In February, EPA’s scientific advisory panel recommended that PFOA be considered a likely carcinogen. PFOA has been detected at low levels in the blood of wildlife and humans and found to be carcinogenic in laboratory animals exposed to high levels of the chemical.

DuPont Co., owner of the Teflon brand, agreed in December to pay $16.5 million in fines and environmental projects to settle charges that it had hidden information about PFOA. The information concerned health risks from pregnant workers’ exposure to the manufacturing of PFOA and environmental risks from a PFOA leak into water supplies near one of its plants.

“There are a variety of effects known to be associated with PFOA in animals. Current studies with humans do not indicate any serious issues to be demonstrated, although the amount of information is pretty limited,” Mr. Auer says. “We hope to come to an understanding where PFOA found in people’s blood is coming from.”

The level of exposure is what makes the poison, says Carl Winter, director of the Food Safety Program at the University of California at Davis.

“While it’s clear people have been exposed to small levels of this, what is much less clear is whether those exposures are of any health significance or not,” says Mr. Winter, who holds a doctorate in agricultural and environmental chemistry.

PFOA is a processing or manufacturing aid used to make nonstick and heat- and stain-resistant materials known as fluoropolymers. Fluoropolymers, a type of plastic, are used in a variety of products, including breathable, all-weather clothing, carpeting, coatings for french-fry boxes, wiring insulation and computer chips.

In the case of cookware, PFOA acts as a surfactant, a water-soluble chemical that allows the active nonstick ingredients to disperse onto the pot or pan, says Hugh Rushing, executive vice president of the Cookware Manufacturers Association in Birmingham, Ala., which provides information, statistics and standards for cookware, bakeware and kitchenware.

The pots and pans are baked at 600 degrees to dry the coating, Mr. Rushing says.

“When the cookware is baked, the PFOA evaporates off,” he says. “We have no doubt, as an industry, that nonstick cookware is totally safe for the consumer.”

Despite popular belief, PFOA cannot be re-created through chemical reactions when the cookware is abused and overheated, Mr. Boothe says.

The EPA is taking action before findings on PFOA’s risks are complete, Mr. Auer says.

“We’re encouraging industry to take steps to reduce the exposure to PFOA from emissions or industrial products they sell with the chemical,” he says. “We think this is good business for the environment and for the companies.”

The EPA announced the Global Stewardship Program in January and received commitments from eight companies, including DuPont, in March. The companies agreed to reduce PFOA releases and product content levels by 95 percent by 2010 and to completely eliminate them by 2015.

In the mid-1990s, DuPont began reducing PFOA emissions into the air and waterways, Mr. Boothe says. The company plans to reduce emissions by 98 percent by 2007, he says.

“This is an instance where EPA recognizes the concerns that exist,” Mr. Auer says. “We are not waiting until all of the details are in. We are moving ahead with the stewardship program to reduce the potentials for exposures now and into the future.”


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