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Forever Chemicals - PFAS and others

"Forever Chemicals" - PFOS and PFAS

PFOS (perfluorooctanesulfonic acid) and more generically, PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl substances) are called "forever chemicals" because the don't degrade in the environment and spread around the world, ending up in almost every living creature, including people... and fish. and similar compounds have been commonly used used to make Teflon nonstick cookware (until 2013), like frying pans, water-repellent sports gear, stain-resistant rugs, food packaging and other consumer - even cosmetics- and industrial products

Health issues with "Forever Chemicals"

PFAS accumulate in the human body. PFAS are found in the blood of people of all ages, everywhere, including newborns.

Studies from both animals and humans indicate that exposure to PFAS can result in cancer or damage to the liver, kidneys and thyroid gland and testicular cancer, as well as being correlated with infertility and low birth weight Even very low levels of PFAS in drinking water are shown to:

In addition, the EPA found in this 2016 study that PFAS can result in high cholesterol, increased liver enzymes, decreased vaccination response, thyroid disorders, pregnancy-induced hypertension and preeclampsia.

PFAS, which are not naturally occurring, have also been found in both municipal and private well drinking water, as well as in rainwater.

During the manufacturing process, most of the PFOA is burned off and only a small amount remained in the final product. Even so, that small amount in Teflon cookware has not be considered by objective research to be a significant source of PFOA exposure. .

Please note, all Teflon products have been free of PFOA since 2013.

If you own older Teflon-coated cookware, especially that which has a damaged cooking surface, such as flaking or peeling coating, those are the only ones which cook be of concern.

Forever Chemicals in Fish

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) scientists found that PFAS are now so common in the environment that consumption of a single serving of freshwater fish per year could be equal to a month of drinking water laced with the “forever chemical” PFOS, or perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, at levels high enough to be harmful. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) data reviewed by the EWG showed that eating just a single meal of wild-caught freshwater fish could lead to similar PFAS exposure as ingesting store-bought fish every day for a year. The implication is that people who catch and consume freshwater fish regularly are at high risk of accumulating dangerous levels of PFAS in their bodies.

Dangers of wild-caught fish

The researchers in a monitoring program conducted by the EPA, the National Rivers and Streams Assessment and the Great Lakes Human Health Fish Fillet Tissue Study examined analyzed data from more than 500 samples of fish fillets collected in the U.S. from 2013 to 2015. They found the median level of total PFAS in fish fillets was 9,500 nanograms/kg with a median level of 11,800 nanograms/kg in the waters of the Great Lakes. Tasha Stoiber, Ph.D., an EWG senior scientist said “PFAS contaminate fish across the U.S., with higher levels in the Great Lakes and fish caught in urban areas.”

Store bought fish

The FDA-conducted survey of grocery store seafood in 2022 found that store-bought fish contained much lower levels of PFAS than wild-caught. The levels of PFAS were 280 times higher in wild-caught fish than n the grocery store sold fish tested by the FDA. Most of the freshwater fish sold in grocery stores is farmed, not wild-caught which may account for the differences.

Teflon Cookware

While PFOA's are no longer used in Teflon-coated cookware, PFAS (per- and polyfluoroaklyl substances) still are. Here's the issue. while Teflon is considered safe and stable under normal use, at high temperatures ( above 500°F / 260°C), Teflon coatings break down emitting toxic chemicals. These fumes are unhealthy and cause a syndrome called "polymer fume fever" or the Teflon flu.

The symptoms are flu-like chills, fever, headache, and/or body aches, which begin 4 to 10 hours after exposure. The conditions normally go away on their own in 12 to 48 hours.

The studies do show that it took extreme conditions (exposure to fumes from Teflon cookware heated to at least 730°F (390°C) for periods of at least 4 hours.

Tips for safely using Teflon cookware

  • Don’t preheat empty Teflon-coated pans.
  • Avoid using high heat settings
  • Turn on stove ventilation exhaust fans or open windows
  • Avoid scratching or damaging the Teflon coating by using wooden, silicone, or plastic utensils rather than metal
  • Hand wash pots and pans with a sponge rather than steel wool scouring pads
  • Replace when the cookware shows signs of scratches, peeling, flaking, and chipping


Alternatives to Teflon

There are many alternatives to Teflon coatings now, including many that are nonstick:

  1. Stoneware. Stoneware, like granite-coated iron, is nonstick when seasoned with cooking oil and still non-stick and scratch resistant.
  2. Ceramic cookware This is almost as non-stick as Teflon!
  3. Cast-iron cookware After you season it with cooking oil, it is naturally nonstick and lasts lifetimes. You can find people who are using their great-grandparents iron pots and pans.
  4. Silicone cookware Silicone (essentially made from sand) is best for baking and utensils, since direct heat (like a flame in a gas stove or electric heating element can damage it.
  5. Stainless steel Stainless steel is not nonstick, but it is durable and you do not need to worry about scratching. And you can puit it in the dishwasher

Also check out silicone microwave popcorn poppers!

Legal Status and Regulation

PFAS have been voluntarily phased out by most U.S.-based manufacturers but 3M has continued to produce them for a few uses. The EPA proposed in August 2022 to designate two forms of PFAS's as hazardous substances under Superfund law.

3M announced December 21, 2022 that it would stop producing PFAS compounds, (polyfluoroalkyl substances) and end their use by the end of 2025. S

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