Yes, there are some harmful chemicals in Teflon. Most are perfluorochemicals (PFCs or PFOAs) and can be released as fumes when Teflon is heated to high temperatures. Even Dupont acknowledges that Teflon can be harmful and calls the resulting illness “polyfume fever.”
PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, is used as a processing aid in the manufacture of Teflon. PFOA is a carcinogen, and is also liver toxicant. It has been shown to be a developmental toxicant in animal studies. However, most believe that you don’t get much exposure to PFOA from Teflon in good condition. You can get offgassing that will kill pet birds if you let your pans overheat at 325 degrees F (although Dupont contends that the pans have to reach 500 degrees). You can heat your pans to 325 in the home if you tend to leave them unattended.
Our biggest exposure to PFOA and related perfluorinated compounds is the grease, stain and soil repellants we use in a ton of consumer products – from microwave popcorn to fast food takeout contains to water resistant clothing to stain repellant carpets.
I’ve heard that you should not use a teflon pan (or any non-stick pan for that matter) if it has a big scratch in it. Do you have an idea if this is correct? I guess intuitively it makes sense that if the PFOA is so toxic then a scratch might allow it to contaminate your food? Or is that not backed up by the evidence?
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