Teflon-Coated Cookware May Release Harmful PFAS Chemicals as it Degrades: Study

New research warns that nonstick cooking pots and pans coated with Teflon may release toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) into food as they degrade, amid growing concerns about the link between exposure to PFAS and major health problems, like cancer, liver damage, thyroid disease, and infertility. If you or someone you love has suffered a serious side effect allegedly related to PFAS exposure, contact Consumer Safety Watch as soon as possible. Because PFAS are so widely used and don’t break down under typical environmental conditions, these so-called “forever chemicals” are ubiquitous in the environment and in the human body, and the health outcomes associated with exposure to the chemicals can be devastating.

Toxic PFAS Chemicals in Household Products

PFAS are man-made chemicals that have been widely used in consumer products and industrial processes worldwide since the 1940s. The chemicals are commonly used as oil and water repellents and coatings for household products like food packaging, textiles, carpets, and nonstick cooking pans. In fact, the chemical polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) is a polymer form of PFAS best known by the brand name Teflon. Many people are routinely exposed to these “forever chemicals” without their knowledge, and this exposure could put them at risk for cancer and other serious and potentially life-threatening health problems. 

In a study published in the December 2022 volume of the journal Science of The Total Environment, researchers found that the scratched surfaces of Teflon-coated cookware can release more than two million PFAS microplastic and nanoplastic particles into food during the cooking process, which may allow PFAS to enter the bloodstream and potentially put exposed individuals at risk for adverse health effects. The researchers warned that the number of plastic particles released from Teflon-coated cookware increases over time, as these products degrade and slowly lose their nonstick coating. 

Harmful Health Effects of PFAS Exposure

The harmful health effects of exposure to PFAS chemicals are well-documented. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), studies have shown that exposure to high levels of certain PFAS may lead to the following adverse health outcomes in humans:

  • Increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer
  • Increased cholesterol levels
  • Changes in liver enzymes
  • Increased risk of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women
  • Small decreases in infant birth weights
  • Decreased vaccine response in children

Furthermore, according to Stephanie Eick, an environmental and reproductive epidemiologist at Emory University in Georgia, PFAS do “a really good job at crossing the placenta,” which means children exposed to PFAS in utero may be at risk for cardiac issues and other health problems later in life.

Where Can PFAS be Found?

In addition to food packaging and other consumer products, PFAS are also present in certain foods, including certain kinds of meat, dairy products, fish, and shellfish, and while some people have been exposed via this route, others have suffered exposure from PFAS-contaminated air, soil, or drinking water supplies near facilities where a release of PFAS has occurred. Others still have been exposed to PFAS while working around or with the chemicals. Sadly, these endocrine-disrupting chemicals do not break down when they are released into the environment, which is how they got the name “forever chemicals,” and they accumulate over time, both in the environment and in the human body. In fact, ATSDR and CDC report that most people in the U.S. have been exposed to PFAS, knowingly or unknowingly, and have PFAS in their blood. 

PFAS Chemicals in Firefighting Foam Products

The two most common PFAS chemicals used in the U.S. are perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). These PFAS have grabbed headlines recently due to their presence in aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), a dangerous foam product that has been used for decades to fight high-hazard flammable liquid fires at military facilities, chemical plants, oil refineries, and commercial airports, among other locations nationwide. Thousands of military and civilian firefighters, chemical plant workers, airport workers, and others across the country who were exposed to AFFF on the job are now pursuing legal claims against the companies that manufactured and sold PFAS-containing firefighting foam products. Each complaint involves similar allegations that exposure to chemicals in the foam caused plaintiffs to develop testicular cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer, and other serious, potentially life-threatening injuries. 

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