August 11, 2005
The News & Observer (North Carolina)
Nonstick cookware risk in question
By SUZANNE HAVALA HOBBS, Correspondent
After more than two years of study by the federal government,
questions concerning the safety of nonstick cookware remain unresolved.
Consumers should be aware of the controversy and consider whether
they want to take steps to limit possible harm while the science
is being sorted out.
The questions center on a man-made chemical called perfluorooctanoic
acid, or PFOA for short. PFOA is used in the production of Teflon
and other nonstick-coated cookware and water-, grease- and stain-repellent
products used in carpet, fabric, paper, leather and other goods.
I wrote on this topic almost two years ago. The issue at that
time had taken on urgency because the Environmental Protection
Agency had determined that PFOA:
* Is persistent in the environment and continues to build up
as more is produced;
* Is present in the blood of up to 90 percent of Americans;
* May cause cancer and other problems, including liver damage
and birth defects, in laboratory animals.
The EPA two years ago launched an expedited review of the scientific
data concerning risks PFOA may pose to human health. The agency
found "suggestive evidence" that PFOA causes cancer
But an independent EPA scientific advisory board in June concluded
the association was stronger and that PFOA was a "likely"
cancer-causing agent in humans.
Industry representatives point out that consumer goods produced
in processes that use PFOA don't necessarily still contain the
But scientists have found that nonstick
coatings can chemically break down when heated, creating and releasing
PFOA into food and the environment. The EPA has not completed
its report and recommendations on the risks.
Any risks, though, may extend well beyond nonstick pots and pans.
The Food and Drug Administration has begun a preliminary investigation
into the migration of PFOA into food heated
in coated paper packaging, such as that used for microwave popcorn,
pizza boxes and french fry containers. A spokesman for
the FDA told The New York Times last month, however, that it's
too early to declare coated food packaging a safety risk.
Where does this leave consumers?
You have two choices. The first: Wait and see.
This is the advice of the EPA. (The agency answers basic questions
about PFOA online at www.epa.gov/opptintr/pfoa/pfoainfo.htm.)
However, you may take some steps now to lessen potential exposure
* Use stainless steel or cast-iron cookware instead.
* If you use nonstick cookware, you should not let it sit on
a burner without adding food or liquid. Leaving empty pots and
pans on a heat source may allow cookware to get hot enough to
* If you use nonstick cookware, avoid high temperatures. Use
low or medium settings instead.
The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit consumer and research
organization, also recommends limiting consumption of foods packaged
in coated wrappers or containers. (More tips can be found at www.ewg.org/reports/pfcworld/part10.php.)Send
questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.