Non-stick, it turns out, has some serious ‘sticking’ power. Whilst you might enjoy that slippery surface for a year or two, the synthetic chemicals commonly used in non-stick cookware have lingering and wide-reaching effects in our bodies and our environment.
The introduction of these toxic chemicals into consumer products has been one of the biggest corporate cover ups of our times. Often referred to as ‘forever chemicals’, PFAS chemicals resist breakdown in the environment and have been linked to a range of health issues from cancers to miscarriage. Only recently has it received the mainstream media attention it deserves, in part thanks to Hollywood blockbuster Dark Waters, though scientists have been warning us of the dangers for decades.
There is no safe level of exposure to the PFAS chemicals in non-stick cookware coatings
It’s claimed non-stick pans shouldn’t shed PFAS chemicals when used according to manufacturer specifications. This includes not overheating and no excessive scraping - common occurrences in many kitchens! An accidental scrape should not mean potential exposure to toxic chemicals.
Two particularly nasty chemicals within the PFAS group, PFOA and PFOS, are considered to have no safe level of exposure, with high-levels of exposure linked to an elevated risk for a number of diseases. This is backed up by a body of scientific evidence. The Madrid Statement on Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs)’, signed by over 200 scientists from 38 countries, linked exposure to PFAS's with cancers, delayed puberty, decreased fertility, reduced immune response in children among other health problems. Studies have also found association with increased risk of miscarriage.
And whilst these chemicals are toxic to humans, they can be deadly to animals. The fumes and particles emitted from synthetic-coated products are estimated to kill hundreds of birds each year - a phenomenon known as “Teflon toxicosis”.
PFAS is now found in our water supply and in the bodies of almost all humans in developed countries. It takes three to five years for concentrations of these chemicals to drop by half in the human body.
Out with the old, in with the new
When the evidence became too big to ignore, regulators stepped in. As a result, PFOA and PFOS have mostly been phased out of consumer products. But before you rush out to replace your scratched up non-stick pan with yet another, we’re far from in the clear.
These chemicals have been replaced by a new group of chemicals, which share similarly concerning characteristics. Referred to as “toxic whak-a-mole”, it’s common industry practice to replace phased-out chemicals with structurally similar ones.
Chemicals are innocent until proven guilty, and can be in use for decades before being revealed as dangerous. Alex Stone, a senior chemist with the Washington State Department of Ecology (who also signed the Madrid Statement), said “Companies can currently produce other chemicals without a good idea of their impact on health and the environment."
Whilst industry claims that these new chemicals are “safe”, there’s mounting evidence indicating that they pose a similar threat to human health and the environment. Independent scientists and other professionals from around the globe continue to express concern about the continued and increasing production of PFAS.
Buy, scratch, dispose, repeat
Synthetic-coated non-stick cookware has a maximum lifespan of five years (if you’re lucky). Non-stick pans are piling up in our landfills by the millions each year, thanks to the continuous cycle of buying, scratching, disposing and replacing. And as you know, these “forever chemicals” in the coatings never break down.
A little ‘sticking’ actually makes for better cooking!
We’ve become so frightened of a little sticking, which can actually make for better, tastier cooking! A little adherence initially is how you’ll achieve that crispy skin or perfect sear - a French term known as “the fond”. This is the layer of browned stuff that builds up on the bottom of a pan when you're roasting meats and vegetables, and creates flavour. It is virtually impossible to develop this on non-stick cookware, but easy on iron and steel cookware - the cookware of choice amongst chefs.
So, should you accept something that’s only less toxic? Or do you want something that’s definitely safe and built to last?
The Australian Industrial Chemicals Introduction Scheme recommends that industries seek alternatives to PFAS chemicals, and that “the alternative chemicals should be less toxic and not persist in the environment.” Yes, you read that right, less toxic. There is no imperitive for companies to come up with solutions that are non-toxic.
The good news is you don’t have to settle for less toxic. There are healthy, sustainable, non toxic and natural nonstick cookware options available. Even better, some are now made in Australia!
It’s time to go back to basics. Tried and true cooking techniques, on healthy cookware that’s free from synthetic chemicals. Healthier, more sustainable and more delicious cooking!
To make easy work of choosing which type of cookware is best suited to you, we've compiled a list to compare how they all stack up, HERE.
Want to learn more? Click on the links below
The Devil We Know - documentary about the Dupont poisoning cover up.
Dark Waters - Hollywood movie starring Mark Ruffalo and Anne Hathaway
The Madrid Statement documents the scientific consensus regarding the persistence and potential for harm of poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs): https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/pdf/10.1289/ehp.1509934
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