PFOA 2005
August 11, 2005. Nonstick cookware risk in question.
By Suzanne Havala Hobbs. The News & Observer (NC)

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August 11, 2005

The News & Observer (North Carolina)

Nonstick cookware risk in question


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 in humans.

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 chemical.

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

However, you may take some steps now to lessen potential exposure to PFOA:

* 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 release PFOA.

* 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 questions and comments to

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