You have probably read or heard many things about PTFE –or Teflon-, as it has been known as the non-stick coating public enemy number one during the last few years. PTFE is one of the different non-stick substances that can be used to coat a frying pan . Although it was patented in 1938, it has been used since the 70’s. And, even though there are other ranges of non-stick coatings in the marketplace, PTFE is still, in our opinion, the one providing better results.
In general terms, it has been told that PTFE is toxic because it contains a carcinogenic substance called PFOA. But there are two important things to clarify about this point. First one is PTFE coatings don’t include this substance anymore. We could stop writing this post here -no PFOA, end of discussion- but let’s go beyond to explain a little bit better what PFOA is and which was the real problem with it; also to let you know that you don’t have to throw your old pans away just in case they still have PFOA.
PFOA-Perflurooctanoic acid-is a substance with many industrial uses, such as foam extinguishers or textile agents, which was also used during the non-stick coating application during many years. Researchers are still analysing the real toxicity of this substance, which concentrations can be really harmful and which negative effects may cause to people, but it has a high persistence in the environment and it has been found in animal’s and human’s blood. According to some researches, high concentrations of this substance could be harmful for human health. In fact, the USEPA – the Environmental Protection Agency of the USA- defined it as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans” and the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified it in group 2B, which contains all substances with low carcinogenic danger for humans.
Is Teflon -or PTFE- toxic?
Unless it is heated over 300 ºC, PTFE is an inert, stable and non-dangerous material. Nobody should cook at this temperature. In case somebody did, PTFE degradation would produce some steam which, even though it’s not very dangerous for human health, it’s not recommended to unnecessarily breath it.
On the other hand, regarding to PFOA, it is very important to remark that PFOA was only used to apply the non-stick coating to the cookware. This means its presence in the finished product when it reached the consumer’s home was already barely detectable. For this reason, using these products at home has never been dangerous.
Anyway, even though there was no real danger for consumers, PFOA used to apply the non-stick coating to the pans was breathed by people who applied the non-stick coating. Also, manufacturers that used PFOA might send their wastewater to the sanitary sewer. The contaminated water flowing from the landfill could be sent to a wastewater treatment plant or just end up in the groundwater.
For this reason, it it is very important to stop using this substance in any industrial process. In fact, it has already been removed from the process of applying PTFE non-stick coating to pans. All countries that signed the Stockholm Agreement have already prohibited using PFOA and production has been restricted all around the world.
We recommend you to read chapters 1 and 3 of our non-stick coatings manual to learn more about this component. You will find useful information about the main non-stick coating categories , how to take good care of them to make them last through years or how to clean burnt pots and pans.