Well, *this* is going to put me right off omelets

An EPA advisory panel has identified a compound used in Teflon as a “likely carcinogen.”

I’ve known for some time that superheating a nonstick pan can kill your canaries, since it releases a toxic gas at high temperatures (which you can pretty much only achieve by turning the stove onto high and leaving an empty pan on the burner, but people do fuck up from time to time). But Teflon is used in all kinds of products, such as Gore-Tex fabrics and pizza boxes, not to mention stain protectors for fabrics and carpets.

But the worst thing about this is, surprise, surprise, the coverup. The company that makes Teflon — DuPont! — knew about this for quite some time:

The EPA is in the midst of a major investigation into how the compound, which is used to make stain- and stick-resistant surfaces and materials for products including Gore-Tex fabrics and pizza boxes, gets into consumers’ blood and whether it affects their health. It is also seeking millions of dollars in fines from DuPont Co., which makes PFOA in Parkersburg, W.Va., on the grounds that the chemical giant failed for 20 years to report possible health and environmental problems linked to the compound.

God only knows what the cancer rate among their employees is. Or whether they bothered to tell their employees of the potential dangers. That’s what got the asbestos companies in deep shit — they knew about the hazards of asbestos for decades before they got caught (in fact, the reason we have OSHA is due to the malfeasance of asbestos manufacturers). I did asbestos litigation for a while (my firm represented an insurance company that did industrial health stuff back in the 1930s, pre-OSHA), and the human toll is just incredible.

I still don’t know what motivates company management to try to suppress stuff like this. I’m sure everyone and their uncle is doing hard-core CYA rather than thinking long-term. But it’s almost always easier to deal with fallout when you admit error and ‘fess up quick. This was a lesson I learned quite early in my legal career, when presented with a senior partner who would lose his temper, but only when you’d really fucked up — to defuse things, all you had to do was say, “Mike, I fucked up. Let me know what I can do to fix it and I’ll learn not to do it again.” Hiding things just made it worse, because he’d find out eventually. That got one of my coworkers fired.

In any event, I own one non-stick pan, a rather nice Calphalon omelet pan I got for a great price using a friend’s employee discount. It doesn’t claim to be Teflon, and the material seems to be integrated rather than sitting on top of the pan, but I just don’t know. Probably won’t have omelets for a while.

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43 Responses

  1. tigtog
    tigtog February 16, 2006 at 1:08 am |

    in fact, the reason we have OSHA is due to the malfeasance of asbestos manufacturers

    I’m shocked, shocked I tell you to find that the infallible market didn’t just sniff out the carcinogenic products of the asbestos/tobbacco/teflon manufacturers and punish them by sending out those “DON”T BUY THIS” rays that save consumers from duplicitous predatory producers.

  2. Gabriel Malor
    Gabriel Malor February 16, 2006 at 1:31 am |

    Woah, woah, woah, reread that article. There is nothing in there that suggests that the chemical involved (PFOA) was known to have carcinogenic effects. No cancer in humans has been linked to PFOA. A “cancer-risk assessment” is still pending. Moreover, the EPA has made no conclusions regarding dangers from non-stick pans and other teflon products.

    Already we’re blaming Dupont for a cover up. As for the free market, you’re witnessing it at work, tigtog. Now that studies have shown a potential (that is, unproven) danger and you know of it, your purchasing decisions can take that danger into account.

  3. Laurie
    Laurie February 16, 2006 at 1:43 am |

    In the mean time, I suggest a really well seasoned cast iron pan, and some elbow grease when cleaning up. Please, please, please DON’T soak cast iron — it rusts, and then you have to scrape the rust off and try to season it all over again. Lots of work.

    The up side to using cast iron is that a tiny amount ends up in the food, and since many of us gals are a little iron deficient, medically it’s not a bad thing. I believe that has actually been stated somewhere that I trust, but I can’t prove it right now, so I’m going off of what my mom(s) told me. I’ll happily take any citations any one would like to toss out.

  4. mythago
    mythago February 16, 2006 at 2:28 am |

    As for the free market, you’re witnessing it at work

    The free market doesn’t work when corporations suppress information that allows consumers to make informed choices.

    And zuzu’s only skimming the surface on asbestos, by the way. I represent people harmed by asbestos, and it is un-fucking-believable how companies STILL try to hide and lie about their involvement.

  5. Robert
    Robert February 16, 2006 at 2:52 am |

    The free market doesn’t work when corporations suppress information that allows consumers to make informed choices.

    Argh…head exploding…agreeing with Mythago…the pain…

  6. KnifeGhost
    KnifeGhost February 16, 2006 at 3:42 am |

    Don’t worry, it’s a minor point, and one that most people (most sensible people, at least) can agree on.

    (Oh, gods. I just implied Robert was sensible. *pop*)

    Anyways. I’ve been saying for years that Teflon is a carcinogen (and I know this isn’t about Teflon proper, but a chemical used in blah blah beside the point) just cause it’s too damn convenient not to be. All my pans are teflon (tough pots, no) but once I’m in the position to buy the cookware I want and not whatever cheap shit the grocery store happened to carry when I moved in, I’ll go for a good set of cast iron. I grew up on the stuff, and I’m a bit of a traditionalist. Plus the even heat distribution in SEX.

    But I disgress. The point is, I always assume everything is a carcinogen unless overwhelming evidence (anecdotal, of course) suggests otherwise. Right now, that’s pretty much just blueberries and tomatoes.

  7. odanu
    odanu February 16, 2006 at 6:52 am |

    agreeing with Laurie. I never got into teflon…it never made sense that when I accidentally scraped the pan while I was cooking I would be eating plastic. Good, well seasoned cast iron is as “non-stick” as teflon, and has the advantage of giving you an iron supplement if you accidentally scrape the pan. That, and it makes a pretty good weapon in a pinch.

  8. Lauren
    Lauren February 16, 2006 at 8:59 am |

    Not to mention cornbread can not be made properly without an iron pan.

  9. Ron O.
    Ron O. February 16, 2006 at 9:11 am |

    KnifeGhost, check out the local thrift stores for cast iron pans. I got my two there. You may need to clean them with a little steel wool and season them, but they’re fine after that.
    IMO eggs taste best cooked with olive oil in a cast iron skillet. Omelettes can be a challenge to fold, but if you mess it up, you can toss the pan in the broiler and make a fritata instead.

  10. Carrie
    Carrie February 16, 2006 at 10:11 am |

    But the thing is that Teflon’s used on lots of food packaging, especially fast food wrappers and microwave popcorn bags–so it’s not just pans. (Full disclosure: I work for a group that’s been pushing hard on DuPont and the EPA about Teflon for several years now. Here’s more information on Teflon toxicosis and birds as well as how pans offgas the stuff.)

  11. CE Petro
    CE Petro February 16, 2006 at 10:16 am |

    The cover-up of PFOA’s harmful effects has only come to light AFTER DuPont and 7 other companies agreed to a settlement with the EPA. In fact, these 8 companies will not discontinue use of PFOA, but will be “processing” it in a different manner.

    From an older WaPo article on PFOA, which I talk about here, PFOA has already been linked to cancer and birth defects, and is found in the blood of 95% of humans. It is not something new, the public is finally getting a chance to express their disdain for the cover-up.

    For cooking, even cooking omlets, a well seasoned cast iron pan is indespensible.

    Oh, and as far as the PTFE (the toxic gas emitted at high temps) I had read a study several years ago, to which I have lost the link, that argues the toxic gas from PTFE is emitted at lower temps. Thus, for bird owners, the use of the ceramic heaters, hair dryers, irons, and a multitude of other small appliances containing non-stick coatings, that we use on a daily basis, should be used in a well ventilated area, far away from your birds or not at all.

  12. Matan
    Matan February 16, 2006 at 10:25 am |

    For cooking, even cooking omlets, a well seasoned cast iron pan is indespensible.

    Yeah, I know, but I can’t toss things with a smooth flick of the wrist in a cast-iron pan. It’s just too heavy :(

    I do use cast-iron for some things. I now have a grill-pan that works nicely for apartment dwellers. I also resisted (with help) the urge to buy a non-stick wok and get a true-to-form rolled steel one. Seasoning that sucked, though, even though my partner’s aunt did it for me in a well-ventilated kitchen in a house, not apartment.

  13. Tex
    Tex February 16, 2006 at 10:36 am |


    IMO eggs taste best cooked with olive oil in a cast iron skillet

    Olive oil loses a lot of its nutrients when it reaches certain temperatures, as well as its flavor. I have a buddy who uses Safflower Oil a lot, since it holds up better under heat, tho I’ve never tried it with eggs.

  14. biosparite
    biosparite February 16, 2006 at 10:46 am |

    As a veteran of company life, I have my own theory of why companies stage coverups: before bad news can be released, someone needs to make the decision. That person is probably fairly senior, making a good living, a couple of kids in college, heavy mortgage, wife who is really into affluence, etc. To advocate putting bad news before the public goes against the corporate (and global American) rule that you never rat on your company/country/bestfriend. Advocating going public is a potential career ender. Oh, the management will never say so, but in a year or so one will find him/herself unpromotable, and the next time there is a layoff, guess what? So the issue is, do I kill my career, endanger my childrens’ prospects, and wreck my finances to be a public servant, or do I shut up so I can educate my kids, drivce a nice car, and have a comfortable retirement? What do you think the answer is?

  15. Shasta MacNasty
    Shasta MacNasty February 16, 2006 at 10:53 am |

    Wasn’t there news years about about how non-stick coats are cancerous when scratched? I’m not surprised.

    We have one cast iron pot in our house, and my mom didn’t know anything about “seasoning” it, so it got soaked, rusted, and never used again.

    So how does one “season” a cast iron pan? How long does it take? I recall seeing some retailers offering a full line of cast iron cookware that looked really nice. I might have to convince my mom to give it another try.

  16. Shasta MacNasty
    Shasta MacNasty February 16, 2006 at 10:56 am |

    Wasn’t there news years about about how non-stick coats are cancerous when scratched? I’m not surprised.

    We have one cast iron pot in our house, and my mom didn’t know anything about “seasoning” it, so it got soaked, rusted, and never used again.

    So how does one “season” a cast iron pan? How long does it take? I recall seeing some retailers offering a full line of cast iron cookware that looked really nice. I might have to convince my mom to give it another try.

    One more thing…

    …several years ago…wasn’t there a story about the DuPont heir who is “mentally challenged” that killed an olympic hopeful? I remember seeing the story on the news and never hearing of it again. Inneressin’…

  17. Anne
    Anne February 16, 2006 at 11:21 am |

    A friend of my mother’s did her PhD work researching the effects of cooking with metal cookware. After about 2 years of her research, she told my mother to throw away all of her metal ware and switch to glass cookware.

  18. Grog
    Grog February 16, 2006 at 11:51 am |

    I’ve owned parrots for years, and the parrot community has known that Teflon was dangerous for at least 10 years. (Several people I know almost lost their companions when they used non-stick cookware – from frypans to those “bags” for roasting chickens in)

    Since then I’ve switched to the following:

    1) A positively ancient set of pots and pans that belonged to my grandmother – and still haven’t a hotspot in them(!)
    2) A couple of now well-seasoned cast iron frypans (heavy, but nearly indestructible – also much cheaper than the “non-stick” frypans – and they don’t warp)
    3) A plain carbon steel wok from Wal-Mart ($20) that I keep oiled.

    The revelation that Teflon (and its cousins) may be dangerous to human health really comes as no surprise.

  19. Matan
    Matan February 16, 2006 at 11:51 am |

    A friend of my mother’s did her PhD work researching the effects of cooking with metal cookware. After about 2 years of her research, she told my mother to throw away all of her metal ware and switch to glass cookware.

    That’s fine for ovenware, but glass isn’t flameproof.

  20. mythago
    mythago February 16, 2006 at 11:52 am |

    Aluminum pans are a hell of a lot easier to clean and handle than cast iron (and no, they don’t cause Alzheimer’s). I like cast iron for some things, but if I told my spouse we’d be using cast iron for cooking three meals a day for a family of five, he’d understandably brain me with said cast iron.

  21. Marksman2000
    Marksman2000 February 16, 2006 at 12:07 pm |

    Nothing beats cast iron. It hasn’t been around for hundreds of years for no reason.

    Keep it simple.

  22. mythago
    mythago February 16, 2006 at 12:10 pm |

    It hasn’t been around for hundreds of years for no reason.

    Yes, our ancestors rightly rejected the 18th-century versions of Teflon and anodized aluminum, not to mention stainless steel.

  23. Marksman2000
    Marksman2000 February 16, 2006 at 12:23 pm |

    Not to mention cornbread can not be made properly without an iron pan.

    Homegirl has it right. Kudos!

    So how does one “season” a cast iron pan? How long does it take? I recall seeing some retailers offering a full line of cast iron cookware that looked really nice. I might have to convince my mom to give it another try.

    Some cast iron cookware may come seasoned off the shelf. If not, you saturate it in vegetable oil and bake it in the oven. This should create a seal around the iron. However, the more an iron pan is used, the better it functions (quite the opposite of most contemporary cookware). So even after you season it the first time, you may want to add a bit of oil (olive, vegetable, etc.) before using it the first few times. But after so many uses, it builds up a non-stick coating that some say adds flavor (and perhaps iron) to your meals. Don’t ever wash it. Just wipe it down and give it a thin coat of oil after each use. It’ll sink it in the metal. Looks spanky!

    Try buying something from LODGE. I believe they have a website, and all my cast iron cookware is made by them.

  24. Rick DeMent
    Rick DeMent February 16, 2006 at 12:25 pm |

    So Stainless Steel is bad too, oh oy that is what I switched to after hearing about the teflon.

  25. Marksman2000
    Marksman2000 February 16, 2006 at 12:27 pm |

    Yes, our ancestors rightly rejected the 18th-century versions of Teflon and anodized aluminum, not to mention stainless steel.

    I see why Robert loves you so much.

  26. Marksman2000
    Marksman2000 February 16, 2006 at 12:29 pm |

    Amazon.com carries Lodge cast iron. Hopefully, they have free shipping (over $25) for cast iron because it is heavy.

  27. Magis
    Magis February 16, 2006 at 12:33 pm |

    Stoneware is fun too but must also be seasoned.

  28. KnifeGhost
    KnifeGhost February 16, 2006 at 1:54 pm |

    Mythago, I’d have made the joke if you did, but that’s why it’s _still_ around.

    I remember seeing some random show on the Food Network about how cast iron is catch on again in the kind of crowd whose shopping habits matter to the producers of shows on the Food Network. Whoever they are, and whether or not they’re reresentative….

    There actually a cute little cookware store a few blocks from here. I’ll check it out next time I’m in the area. Cast iron is sexy. The End.

    Oh, and I’ve been eyeing the cast iron (huge thick) crepieres at the grocerie the last while. PERFECt for cornbread, pancakes, or, y’know. Crepes.

  29. Kyle
    Kyle February 16, 2006 at 2:16 pm |

    I still don’t know what motivates company management to try to suppress stuff like this.

    That’s a rhetorical statement, right?

  30. a nut
    a nut February 16, 2006 at 2:32 pm |

    In the mean time, I suggest a really well seasoned cast iron pan, and some elbow grease when cleaning up. Please, please, please DON’T soak cast iron — it rusts, and then you have to scrape the rust off and try to season it all over again. Lots of work.

    Yep, I completely agree. This is the way weve gone for a while now asa my dad hates nonstick pans (they tend to dry out after a while, you can’t use metal spatula’s, spoons, etc.). We also have a cast iron “pan” that reaches over 2 burners in order to make large breakfasts of pancakes, eggs, bacon, etc., at one shot (along with about 4 others sizes of cast iron pans, btw, inlcuding one that is great for making omelets).

    Also, using Pam or something similar helps with all that sticking stuff, too. There is even a kind with flour already in it (yes, I can be a lazy baker at times).

  31. John From UConn
    John From UConn February 16, 2006 at 2:40 pm |

    I, too love cast iron. A well seasoned cast iron skillet, and a gas stove is the best way to cook. Cast iron heats so evenly, and it has enough thermal mass to stay hot when you add things. Lodge makes 2-handled skillets, for easier lifting. Using metal utensils without having to worry about scratching is nice, too.

  32. mythago
    mythago February 16, 2006 at 3:02 pm |

    KnifeGhost, the best way is to hang out with low-cooking-skill friends. Inevitably, they accumulate cast-iron pans they never use more than once, and when you gush over it, they tell you “Here, take it.”

    Cast iron has many fine uses, but it’s not the be-all and end-all of cookware.

  33. Marksman2000
    Marksman2000 February 16, 2006 at 3:15 pm |

    Speaking of Teflon and other useful-products-turned-hazardous, what will become of the asbestos dilemma? I’ve seen a couple TV spots featuring people sick from asbestos, pleading for viewers to call their legislators so the asbestos industry doesn’t get off the hook. I really hope these sick people aren’t counting on a Republican-controlled House and Senate to help them out. Might as well spend their time retouching their last will and testament.

  34. Starla
    Starla February 16, 2006 at 4:58 pm |

    I don’t care what anyone says, no one is going to take my non-stick pans away from me. They are one of the best things ever created.

    I’m not a professional chef and I have little to no time to clean dishes, so something that I can soak or something where the food comes off immediately is a big plus in my life.

    Plus, and I’m going to sound real superficial right now, cast iron pans are really ugly and really heavy.

  35. KnifeGhost
    KnifeGhost February 16, 2006 at 6:38 pm |

    That’s devious and brilliant, Mythago. I’ll give it a shot.

    Starla, don’t worry, there’s not shame in taking aesthetics into account. I think cast iron pans look….. I dunno. Reliable, solid. Like they’ll last you forever.

  36. reddest
    reddest February 16, 2006 at 6:59 pm |

    Fuck DuPont. Seriously. I was born and raised in Parkersburg, WV. Chemical plants are a huge part of why my home state has the highest air pollution threat in the entire US. Of course they cover shit up. All of those companies do. People from my area tend to have a lot of wacky, elusive health problems, including myself. It’s starting to come to light that, among other things, there is serious manganese dust contamination from the plants. I am completely unsurprised that a DuPont product harms people and they lie about it.

  37. Caja
    Caja February 16, 2006 at 8:20 pm |

    I’ve also had parrots for years, so non-stick items do not darken my doorstep. I use cast iron, a couple stainless steel pots, and glass – there are glass pots that are safe for stovetop use. Oh – anodized aluminum also does quite well. I have an old waffle iron with aluminum plates, and it is fabulous. A little oil, and the waffles pop out cleanly. (Much better than the “non-stick” waffle iron that I had the great misfortune to use once.)

    I find that, if you cook things right, they’re less likely to stick. Sadly, I’m a lazy cook, I wander away and things scorch and burn, so I end up soaking pots (NOT the cast iron, of course – I scrub that with oil and salt when I screw up and let something stick to it) a lot to save on pot-scraping time.

  38. Prabhata
    Prabhata February 16, 2006 at 9:15 pm |

    I stopped using teflon coated frying pans because I use high heat for quick stir-frys. I now use a seasoned cast iron skillet for that purpose and the result is outstanding. I would not trade my cast iron for the best non-stick surface frying pan on the market. The cast iron is a little heavy, but it provides a great non-stick cooking surface without worrying about high heat health problems. I also use a very good quality peanut oil.

  39. mythago
    mythago February 16, 2006 at 9:30 pm |

    what will become of the asbestos dilemma?

    Big companies that don’t like holding asbestos liabilities will bring the bill up periodically, and it will be an ugly, bloody fight every time. The only bright spot is that fiscal conservatives have noticed that when the fund runs out of money, taxpayers will get stuck with the tab, so they’re agin it.

  40. Tapetum
    Tapetum February 17, 2006 at 12:21 pm |

    Interesting tidbit on asbestos use can be found here:
    http://www.damninteresting.com/?p=394#more-394
    (full disclosure – it’s my article)
    The interesting thing to me is that when asked about asbestos filters, all P. Lorillard will say is that there is no asbestos in any of their cigarette filters now, and hasn’t been in a long time. They’re completely unwilling to say that there ever was, and in fact none of their advertising at the time ever said what the “pure, safe” substance in their filters was.

  41. Starla
    Starla February 17, 2006 at 1:06 pm |

    I know KnifeGhost, I know. One of my friend’s mom still has her cast iron pan and I’ve known the family since 1985, and I’m sure the mom has had that pan for longer.

    My grandmother uses nothing else but stainless steel pots and pans with copper bottoms, usually Revereware.

    Sadly, I have to say that I have owned nothing else but non-stick since I moved out on my own at age 19.

    One question though, and this really is just a question. Does stopping the use of non-stick pans really make a huge difference when, from reading other comments, teflon seems to be used from packaging of foods to stain resistance for fabrics/upholstery? I just seriously want to know. I think if most people were concerned with the possible (read: likely) carcinogenic properties of teflon, wouldn’t it be best to try to avoid everything that included teflon? I know that is probably near impossible, but I just see it as a bit silly to avoid just one item with teflon but not anything else. Though I am sure that some of the commenters here do try to avoid items with teflon.

    On a side note, I have a friend who has owned a Goffin Cockatoo for a number of years now (since it first hatched) and she only cooks with non-stick. She mentioned in the past that she makes sure that the pans don’t get too hot, but so far her bird seems fine.

    Would cooking on a lower heat setting be any better?

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