Toxic Teflon: 10 Ways to Minimize Your Family's Exposure

To learn more about the story of toxic Teflon, read last week's post:
Toxic Teflon: How a Deadly Chemical Evaded Regulation and Ended Up inside 99.7% of Us

PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic Acid) or C8 is an essential ingredient in Teflon and for decades was used in a huge range of different products (nonstick cookware and bakeware, pizza boxes, coatings for eye glasses, waterproof clothing, and stain-proof coatings for carpets, to name a few). Because of exposure through consumer products and due to exposure as a result of the disposal of millions of pounds of chemical waste into the air, water, and landfills, 99.7% of Americans have PFOA in their blood. (source 1)

Studies have tied PFOA to an incredible range of health effects throughout the body, often even at very low exposure levels. These health effects include:
  • ovarian cancer
  • prostate cancer
  • lymphoma
  • reduced fertility
  • arthritis
  • hyperactivity
  • altered immune responses in children
  • hypotonia, or 'floppiness,' in infants" 
  • ulcerative colitis
  • high cholesterol
  • pregnancy-induced hypertension
  • thyroid disease
  • testicular cancer
  • kidney cancer
(sources 1, 2)

The story of toxic Teflon is a horrifying illustration of our broken regulatory system, and proof that consumers cannot rely on the reasonable assumption that if something were truly dangerous, companies wouldn’t be allowed to sell it.
In some ways, C8 [or PFOA] already is the tobacco of the chemical industry — a substance whose health effects were the subject of a decades-long corporate cover-up...And, like tobacco, C8 is a symbol of how difficult it is to hold companies responsible, even when mounting scientific evidence links their products to cancer and other diseases. (source 1)

While U.S. companies have participated in a "voluntary" (read "unenforceable") phase-out of PFOA, the not-so-different replacement chemicals industry is now using instead appear to be just as problematic. (source 3)

Does What I Do Matter?

In the face of this kind of information, it is easy to feel outraged but also helpless. However, I take the same stance with PFOA that I do with all other toxic chemicals I learn about. While I cannot eliminate my family's exposure, I can refuse to support these companies financially and minimize my family's exposure to PFOA (as well as the novel “fluorochemicals” that have replaced PFOAs in consumer products) whenever possible. Here are some ways to do that.

10 Ways to Minimize Your Exposure to Toxic Teflon 

(and Its Toxic Cousins) 

  1. Ditch the nonstick bakeware. I did this years ago and personally found the switch remarkably easy. I simply swapped out my nonstick bakeware for stainless steel or glass bakeware. I lightly grease or use a Silpat when necessary. Seasoned cast iron or stoneware are also safer choices for baking.
  2. Avoid electric kitchen appliances with nonstick coatings, such as rice cookers, pressure cookers, and waffle irons. We love, love, love our Instant Pot, which has an uncoated stainless steel (dishwasher-safe!) insert. The Instant Pot can be used as a rice cooker, pressure cooker, or slow cooker. We also have a waffle iron with a ceramic-based coating.
  3. Ditch the nonstick pots and pans. This was a bit more challenging. But I did find that many foods can be cooked up just fine in stainless steel. For eggy dishes, tofu, and other very sticky foods, we use preseasoned cast iron or enameled cast iron.
  4. If you must use a nonstick pan, opt for a nonstick skillet with a ceramic-based coating that is free of PFOA and other PFCs such as PTFE. We have used Green Pan skillets as well as the Cuisinart GreenGourmet skillet, (recommended as a safe option in Safe Mama's Green Guide) which we use for eggs and other super sticky foods. 
  5. If you choose to use Teflon cookware, do not heat it above 450ºF. Do not heat empty pans, nor leave cookware unattended, nor use it in hot ovens or on grills. Also, discard any non-stick products if the coatings show signs of deterioration (scratches and flaking, for example).
  6. Don't eat microwave popcorn, which comes in bags lined with PFOA. Make your own popcorn on the stove top or with an air popper, or even in the microwave with a plain paper bag.
  7. Avoid fast food, Chinese and pizza take-out containers. To-go containers for greasy foods are usually coated with the nonstick chemicals PFOA. 
  8. Use non-toxic personal care products free of Teflon (such as Glide floss by Oral-B), “PTFE” or "perfluoro" or “fluoro” ingredients. PFOA and other PFCs can be found in dental floss as well as nail polish, facial moisturizers, and eye make-up.
  9. Be wary of all fabrics advertised as stain-resistant/ stain-repellent or water-resistant/ water-repellent, as they are often manufactured with PFOA or other harmful PFCs. Choose clothing, outerwear, shoes, luggage, sporting equipment and outdoor gear without Teflon, Scotchgard, Stainmaster, Polartec or Gore-Tex tags. I have found it especially challenging to find school uniforms without treatments, and often resort to buying clothes not labeled as uniform clothing, but which are the correct color and style. I have found that 100% cotton fabrics (as opposed to synthetic fabrics or blends) are less likely to be treated. We also like to purchase children’s clothing (especially underclothes) from Hanna Andersson when our budget allows, since the majority of their products are certified Oeko-Tex® Standard 100
  10. Avoid stain-repellent treatments on carpets and furniture. Purchase untreated products and refuse optional treatments. According to The Intercept, a 2009 EPA analysis of consumer products found that stain-resistant coatings for carpets and upholstery were greater sources of PFOA to consumers than Teflon-coated pans. 
  11. (Sources for 9 Ways: 5, 6, 7)

Support Toxic Chemical Reform

But even more important than taking these measures is to support meaningful chemical reform to fix our broken and ineffective regulatory system. Consider this sobering observation:
Perhaps the most remarkable and unlikely occurrence of all is not the fact that the [PFOA]contamination happened, or even that it turned out to be harmful, but that it was discovered. It’s easy to imagine how — without Tennant, Bilott, or Kiger; without Reilly’s revealing emails; and without the exuberance of the health project and the diligence of the science panel — DuPont’s secrets might never have emerged. Had the stars aligned that way, C8 would still be largely unknown, just one of the tens of thousands of unregulated chemicals we don’t notice as they silently pollute our world. (source 2, emphasis mine)

I recommend subscribing to updates from nonprofits such as Safer Chemicals Healthy Families (specifically focused on toxic chemical reform) or Environmental Working Group (non-profit watch dog on health and environmental issues) among others. When they ask you to sign a petition, sign it and share it.

What steps have you taken to minimize your family's exposure to toxic Teflon?

Sources and Further Reading

  1. The Teflon Toxin: DuPont and the Chemistry of Deception (The Intercept) 
  2. The Teflon Toxin: The Case Against DuPont (The Intercept) 
  3. The Teflon Toxin: How DuPont Slipped Past the EPA (The Intercept) 
  4. Teflon Chemical Harmful at Smallest Doses: EPA's "Safe" Level is Hundreds or Thousands of Times Too Weak (Environmental Working Group) 
  5. EWG's Guide to Avoiding PFCs (Environmental Working Group) 
  6. Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs): Including PFOA, PFOS PFHxS, and PFHxA (Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families) 
  7. Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs) (Washington Toxics Coalition) 

Related Posts

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  1. One more tip I want to throw out there; don't use metal utensils for pots or pans treated with Teflon.
    A Green Leaf Home.

  2. No microwave popcorn here in YEARS. Of course we also got rid of the microwave.

  3. There was a talk about using Teflon inside a ketchup bottle so every drop can slide out. Do you know if that's been done?

    On a related note, don't use a rice cooker or pressure that has a inside pot lined Teflon. I recently switched to Instant Pot that has a Stainless Steel pot and I absolutely can't say enough about it. I wrote a post on why I switched and about how to reduce arsenic in rice and ironically, using a pressure cooker actually helps reduce arsenice level but it's important to use a stainless less and not non-stick inside pot.

  4. Great point, Karen! I added an additional tip about electric appliances. A LOT of people use rice cookers with nonstick inserts. My sister had a Cuisinart electric pressure cooker that she bought at Costco (nonstick liner), but when it died she replaced it with an Instant Pot, and now I and another sister have one too. We love it! Regarding Ketchup, I found this:
    Not surprisingly, little mention of what this new technology is made of. Let's hope there is some disclosure and testing before it becomes a packaging material for food, but I won't be holding my breath on that.

  5. Good point that it's in more than just cookware. I think we have a couple Gore-Tex rain coats around.

  6. I ditched teflon years ago. I prefer cooking in stainless anyway. It's what I grew up with. I'm going to get an Instant Pot!

  7. Thanks for the great info Betsy. I threw out my Teflon years ago and haven't looked back. I use mainly stainless steel and cast iron. Both can be non-stick if used correctly. I've used stainless steel rice cookers and now I've switched to ceramic.

  8. Very in-depth, and I'm happy to say I do all of these!

  9. I discarded teflon years back. I favor cooking in stainless at any rate. It's what I grew up with. Will get an Instant Pot!
    Nice sharing!


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