September 26, 2005
Teflon® Accusations Don’t Stick
By Michael D. Shaw
It’s one thing to attack the chemical industry for out-and-out environmental pollution, but when they start going after a product that has been established for over 50 years, it’s time to cry “Foul!”
Take, for example, the recently declared war against Teflon®. Developed in DuPont’s Jackson Laboratory in New Jersey, Teflon® is employed as a nonstick coating in kitchen utensils, clothing, carpeting, commercial flooring, food packaging, as well as in its pure form in countless other applications, including medical devices and cable insulation.
Like any substance, including water and air, when used foolishly or improperly, Teflon® can produce ill effects. It was found that if a coated frying pan were left on high heat (greater than 572° F) for a period of time, in an unventilated small kitchen, certain toxic compounds could accumulate. The most usual effect of this would be flu-like symptoms, lasting a few days.
Then there were the misplaced concerns about Teflon® cable insulation. Horror stories, describing super-toxics that could be generated in fire scenarios, were never proven. Most likely, these were a conflation of known issues with PVC-based cable and questionable lab data from the 1980’s.
The ante was upped recently when the US EPA declared that perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a compound used in the manufacture of Teflon®, is a “likely carcinogen.” This sounds impressive, until you find out that this descriptor is typically applied to agents that have tested positive in more than one species, sex, strain, site or exposure route, with or without evidence of carcinogenicity in humans.
In the case of PFOA, there is no definitive human data. Moreover, epidemiologists and toxicologists will tell you that animals seem to be affected far more by chemicals than humans.
For my money, the world is a whole lot better off with Teflon®, than it would be without it.