The warnings have been around for at least 10 years, growing in intensity in Europe and the USA in recent years, and given their most impactful voice yet in the 2015 'Madrid Statement'. This was a document published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives and signed by over 200 scientists from 38 countries: http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1509934/
PFASs are used in many 'modern convenience' products such as waterproof and spill-resistant coatings, takeaway food container coatings and nonstick cookware. There has been a strong consumer backlash in the USA away from nonstick cookware in recent years as the alarming studies have been shared more easily and widely on social media.
The Huffington Post had this to say on May 1 in summary of the health risks associated with PFASs: 'The Madrid Statement cites data that links exposures to PFASs with certain cancers, delayed puberty, decreased fertility, reduced immune response in children and elevated cholesterol, among other health problems. A Danish study published in April adds to the concerns, linking blood levels of PFASs, including the new short-chain versions, with up to a sixteenfold increase in the risk of miscarriage.' (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/01/madrid-statement-dupont-chemicals_n_7191496.html)
The Madrid Statement warnings are similar to those in other recent studies in terms of the science. But notable this time are the much clearer recommendations for concrete action.
After a long list of the reasons for their concerns with PFASs, here's part of what the Madrid Statement recommended:
"Purchasing organizations, retailers, and individual consumers:
Whenever possible, avoid products containing, or manufactured using, PFASs. These include many products that are stain-resistant, waterproof, or nonstick.
Question the use of such fluorinated “performance” chemicals added to consumer products."
American cooks have been rapidly switching back to seasoned cast iron in recent years for it's healthy nonstick properties (eg. http://articles.latimes.com/2012/nov/24/food/la-fo-cast-iron-20121124), and rising sales of cast iron in Australia indicate the start of the same health trend there.
After living in the USA for 7 years and seeing first-hand this big shift in cookware habits, then France for 5 years, Australian engineer Mark Henry (founder of Furi knives) believed he could improve on traditonal American cast iron and French steel pans, and manufacture them competitively in Australia. In late 2014 his company Solidteknics launched their Australian-made AUSfonte cast iron cookware, and in late 2015 their AUS-ION seamless wrought iron pans, to broad acclaim among chefs and experts, and rapid sales success in Australia and the USA.
Mark Henry said, 'We are very proud to be a part of this revolution in healthier cooking habits. There has been so much emphasis on improving the quality of food being cooked in Australia in recent years, and now we see cooks becoming much more aware of the health benefits, or dangers, of the cookware they are putting all that healthy food into. Seasoned iron might not be quite as nonstick as the synthetic coatings, but when it is well-seasoned it is close, and it is all-natural, non-toxic, and forever renewable. It just gets better with more cooking, and lasts for centuries, with a little care......not disposable every few years like the synthetic nonsticks.....so it is also more sustainable, and that is something we care deeply about. We are immensely proud to be the only production cookware made in Australia, and exporting our new expertise around the world.'
For health and sustainability, at Solidteknics we believe there aren't many good choices in cookware. What to do?
When it comes to cookware, what are the alternatives to toxic disposable synthetic nonstick pans if you still want some nonstick cooking performance?
- Ceramic-coatings or titanium reinforced nonstick may not be as toxic, but they are disposable, with a very short effective life.
- Stainless steel can be good for boiling/simmering, though quite sticky for frying. The best brands are sturdy enough to last many years, though the rivets will not last forever. Be aware of the leaching of Nickel, a heavy metal of concern in Europe, in Nickel-based stainless steels (most of them, like 18/8 or 18/10). Ask for Nickel-free stainless steels.
- Enamel-coated (really vitreous glass) cast iron, from reputable manufacturers, is entirely inert and safe. Particularly good for slow cooking of acidic sauce-based foods, though can be very sticky for frying, particularly after some surface scuffing wear. Overall durability can be good, for the best brands, though eventually chips will allow rust to penetrate.
- Solid glass and ceramic/stoneware from the best manufacturers can be excellent inert vessels for slow cooking in the oven, though very inefficient at heat transfer and susceptible to thermal shock cracking for stove-top cooking.
- Bare cast iron is one of the best for combination of healthy and sustainable low-stick cooking. They have no real heat limits so are ideal for high heat searing of meats. They can last for centuries (though cracking from impact/thermal shock can occur), and the natural seasoning you build yourself can last just as long, with a little care. Traditional brands with short stubby handles can be very hot to handle (modern long, vented handles are best), and beware of the potential for heavy metals being cast in with the scrap used in cheap cast iron cookware from dubious sources. Their relatively heavy weight can be a problem for anyone lacking strength.
- Bare steel and wrought iron cooks and seasons like cast iron, with all the same health benefits, but at around half the weight. Most are made with welded or riveted handles, though the best French/American brands can still be quite durable. Thick-based French steel pans heat evenly and have enough thermal inertia for perfect searing of big steaks without cooling. Thinner, cheaper imports heat unevenly and can warp under high heat, particularly with induction. Australian-made AUS-ION pans are formed from one seamless sheet of wrought iron, so are far more durable and hygienic than traditional riveted pans, and their vented handles reduce heat transfer up the handle. Thick and highly conductive, they are loved by top chefs and serious home cooks who seek the ultimate combination of cooking performance, healthy non-toxic natural nonstick, and sustainable multi-generation durability.
Because synthetic-coated pans have been dominant for two generations, Australian cooks have largely forgotten the natural nonstick properties of seasoned bare iron cookware. This is not enamelled cast iron, but real bare cast iron, steel, or wrought iron, on which you build up a natural nonstick layer through 'seasoning' with oil and heat, intentionally, or with lots of cooking. There's lots of ways to build your own seasoning, and here's how we do it: www.solidteknics.com/ironcare
- Seasoning iron pans: www.solidteknics.com/ironcare