Whoa. What's The Emergency?
Two days ago, The New York Times Magazine published a longform article about environmental lawyer Robert Bilott. The piece covers Bilott's 16 year and counting legal battle against chemical company DuPont, detailing the decades of health risks the company has covered up. The findings center around the unregulated chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA. Developed in the late 1940s by 3M, DuPont began purchasing PFOA in 1951 for use in its Teflon coating. DuPont has been conducting internal studies and connecting the chemical to health defects in animals and people for over four decades. Never revealing their findings or removing the chemical from their products, DuPont even began dumping waste water tainted with PFOA into the Ohio River on the edge of their Parkersburg, WV facility. People have been drinking this contaminated water and using Teflon products for decades without knowing about the health effects DuPont discovered. The New York Times Magazine reports, "By the ’90s, Bilott discovered, DuPont understood that PFOA caused cancerous testicular, pancreatic and liver tumors in lab animals. One laboratory study suggested possible DNA damage from PFOA exposure, and a study of workers linked exposure with prostate cancer."
The connection between PFOA (in Teflon) and health has been revealed for sometime and, while I knew non-stick wasn't the most healthy option, I wasn't aware of the extent of damage it is doing the world over. Again, from the NYT Magazine piece:
Where scientists have tested for the presence of PFOA in the world, they have found it. PFOA is in the blood or vital organs of Atlantic salmon, swordfish, striped mullet, gray seals, common cormorants, Alaskan polar bears, brown pelicans, sea turtles, sea eagles, Midwestern bald eagles, California sea lions and Laysan albatrosses on Sand Island, a wildlife refuge on Midway Atoll, in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean, about halfway between North America and Asia.
To add insult to injury (literally), the E.P.A. has only "set a 'provisional' limit of 0.4 parts per billion for short-term exposure, but has never finalized that figure. This means that local water districts are under no obligation to tell customers whether PFOA is in their water." DuPont, in response to the lawsuits, is transitioning to a similar (but less researched and unregulated) florine-based compound. A separate coalition of 200 scientists have signed The Madrid Statement declaring their concerns over all fluorochemicals and recommending legislation to limit production and develop safer alternatives.
Read the whole NYT Magazine article here.
Now we've established that DuPont is an ethically bankrupt corporation, but what does this have to do with your cookware right now? If you need new cookware, do not add to the demand for non-stick options. If you already own some, I don't believe it's overreacting to suggest you stop using it immediately (I would). While flakes of Teflon from a scratched pan are often treated as toxic, according to the Environmental Group (mentioned in the NYT piece for their research) solid flakes are inert and non-toxic. The toxicity of Teflon comes from the fumes created when a non-stick pan is overheated. Breathing the fumes can cause flu-like symptoms (aptly called "Teflon Flu") while the effects of long term exposure are unknown. From the EWG:
Manufacturers' labels often warn consumers to avoid high heat when cooking on Teflon. But EWG-commissioned tests conducted in 2003 showed that in just two to five minutes on a conventional stove top, cookware coated with Teflon and other non-stick surfaces could exceed temperatures at which the coating breaks apart and emits toxic particles and gases.
What should you do now? DuPont has put the problem in your hands and in your body for you to deal with. The first thing you should do is stop using non-stick cookware and utensils. For cookware, safer alternatives already exist.
Replace Your Non-Stick Items
Cast iron, glass, enamel, and stoneware have existed for longer than Teflon and are safe alternatives to use. I was concerned about what "factory seasoned" cast iron is, but here's an explanation. If you are buying and don't know where to begin, I've compiled some options covering varying price ranges (this is not exhaustive, so please shop around). The switch could be a significant financial investment and I don't like to encourage hasty purchases, but this is important to your health. Brands to consider:
Switch to wooden or metal utensils. These are fairly easy to find in thrift stores, but you probably want to buy wooden ones new.
How to Dispose of Your Non-Stick Cookware
Once you make the switch, you will have to decide what to do with your old non-stick items. Please do not donate them to the thrift store where some unwitting soul will buy them. Your curbside recycling program may accept cookware (NYC does). You can check Earth 911 to find a recycling center near you that will accept it, but you'll have to find out from them what they eventually do with it.
DuPont has put us in the position of having to dispose of these toxic materials, so I think the more appropriate action is to send it all to the corporate offices of DuPont. Do not include a return address on the package, but do include a note in irate tones about why you have sent it. Here's the address of DuPont's Corporate Office:
E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company
1007 Market Street
Wilmington, DE 19898-1100
Spread the Word & Agitate Dupont
Share this article and tell your friends and family to ditch their non-stick cookware. Agitate DuPont and call out their brazen destructive behavior.
CALL: +1 (302) 774-1000
FACEBOOK: I doubt they will allow negative comments on their profile, but you can tag @dupontco in your own feed.
This kind of mayhem should not be silently tucked away. Add your angry voice in support of those who have been affected and to Robert Bilott's action on their behalf.
This post contains affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you buy anything through the link (it doesn't change the amount you pay). I only include brands that I believe in, that I would use myself, or think might be of interest to you.