Tag Archives: Food and Drug Administration

Teflon’s Sticky Side: By Paul McRandle

Photo: Egg frying in non-stick panPhoto courtesy Shutterstock Images


When heated to between 680 and 930 degrees Fahrenheit—scorching heat—the fluoropolymers used in chemical non-stick finishes degrade into several undesirable substances, including trifluoroacetate (TFA), a substance highly toxic to plants.

Other problematic chemicals which have been found in almost all blood samples taken by the Red Cross include perfluorinated acids, including perfluorooctanic acid (PFOA), used in Teflon and Gore-Tex and formerly released from Scotchgard. PFOA was found in the umbilical cord blood of 99 percent of 300 babies born at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 2004. Researchers at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health are now determining if the chemical has harmed the infants by altering their hormone levels. The source of PFOA’s widespread diffusion into the blood of infants, adults and the environment appears to be both industrial emissions and the use of now-discontinued Scotchgard stain-resistant products.

An independent scientific review panel advising the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced that PFOA should be considered a “likely” carcinogen. And in a voluntary agreement with the EPA, eight major manufacturers have agreed to eliminate 95 percent of PFOA emissions by 2010, though they will continue to use the chemical in making non-stick finishes. In high doses, at least one perfluorinated acid, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) was found to be fatal to rats, leading the EPA and 3M, Scotchgard’s maker, to phase it out. Last but not least, the manufacturer warns that overheated chemical non-stick finishes can release fumes that can be fatal to birds, and a 2001 study published in Nature found that overheated chemical non-stick pans released greenhouse gas chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). The nonprofit Environmental Working Group notes that at 680°F, Teflon gives off six toxic gases including two carcinogens.

Recent research indicates that microwave popcorn may be another source of PFOA in our bodies, according to a study conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and published in the October 2005 Food Additives & Contaminants. Some paper food wrappers include fluorotelomer coatings to repel grease with the highest amounts of these coatings contained in microwave popcorn bags. The FDA found that significant amounts of fluorotelomers migrate from the bags to the oil in microwave popcorn. Unfortunately, once in the body these chemicals may be metabolized to form PFOA. Though the amounts from any single popcorn bag are small, because PFOA remains in the body for years, levels can build up over time.