Ecology Center’s Healthy Stuff Lab Findings Inform California Law Banning PFAS
October 6, 2021
A new study by the Ecology Center’s Healthy Stuff Lab, “Still Cooking: An Update on Toxic PFAS in Cookware Products,” found some cookware manufacturers still use PFAS coatings on their nonstick products, despite claims that their pans are free from certain PFAS chemicals. This recent analysis is a follow-up to the 2020 report, “What’s Cooking? PFAS and Other Chemical Hazards in Nonstick Cooking and Baking Pans.” In both 2020 and 2021 the Ecology Center found some product claims to be misleading; possibly causing consumers to purchase a PFAS-coated pan when they think they’re buying an alternative.
The Ecology Center’s research and published findings on cookware coatings inspired lawmakers in California to include cookware in a newly passed law regarding PFAS use and disclosure. Yesterday, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law the California Safer Food Packaging and Cookware Act of 2021, banning toxic ‘forever chemicals’ known as PFAS in paper-based food packaging and requiring disclosure of the toxic chemicals in cookware.
“Consumers want and deserve to know what’s in the cookware they use to make their family’s meals,” said Nancy Buermeyer, senior policy strategist, at Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, a co-sponsor of the California PFAS bill. “Yet, until now, no state or federal law required this disclosure, leaving consumers in the dark. The Ecology Center’s “What’s Cooking?” report provides a sobering window into the chemicals hiding in cookware, including toxic chemicals like PFAS and BPA. Fortunately, California’s new law will give consumers much needed information on the hazardous chemicals present in the cook and bakeware they’re considering buying, allowing us all to make safer choices.”
In 2020, the Ecology Center found that 79% of nonstick cooking pans and 20% of nonstick baking pans tested positive for PTFE coatings. PTFE, best known by the brand name Teflon™, is made using several hazardous PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances) that have polluted drinking water across the globe. In addition, a report co-released with the Mind the Store Campaign and Toxic Free Future found more than one-third of packaging from burger chains and nearly 90% of packaging from health-conscious chains tested positive for PFAS chemicals.
In 2021 the Ecology Center tested four more pans as a follow up to the 2020 report. New test results in “Still Cooking: An Update on Toxic PFAS in Cookware Products” show two pans were coated with PTFE, even though they both claimed to be PFOA-free. Test results from two other brands were consistent with the products’ marketing claims of PFAS- and PTFE-free.
The Ecology Center found that product claims–and omissions–on some packaging could lead buyers to purchase PTFE-coated pans when they think they’re buying an alternative. Tested pans labeled “PTFE-free” were indeed found to be PTFE-free but other label claims, such as “PFOA-free” did not mean PFAS-free. In fact, most pans in our studies labeled “PFOA-free” were coated with PTFE without that disclosure.
This research is a part of the Ecology Center’s broader mission to phase out nonessential uses of PFAS in order to protect drinking water. PTFE-based pan coatings can release PFAS into the environment throughout their lifespan, especially during manufacture, but also through high-temperature cooking and during disposal or recycling. Once dispersed, PFAS pollution is extremely difficult to clean up.
A growing body of evidence indicates some PFAS contribute to liver disease, increased cholesterol, impaired response to vaccines, thyroid disease, asthma, lowered fertility, and high blood pressure in pregnant women. Elevated risks of testicular and kidney cancer have been found in highly exposed people. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies PFOA, a heavily used and well-studied PFAS chemical, as a possible carcinogen.
“Safer, more durable alternatives are readily available and provide good cooking performance,” said Melissa Cooper Sargent, environmental health advocate at the Ecology Center. “We suggest opting for uncoated pans made from cast iron or stainless steel or, for baking, glass or ceramic.” The researchers also note that ceramic coatings offer a relatively nonstick surface without the toxic chemical load, although they are known for having short useful lifespans.
Ecology Center is a non-profit environmental advocacy organization established in 1970 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Ecology Center develops innovative solutions for healthy people and a healthy planet in primary areas: Environmental Health, Energy & Climate Change, Environmental Education, and Zero Waste. This work is accomplished through educating consumers, pushing corporations to use clean energy, make safe products, and provide healthy food, providing people with innovative services that promote healthy people and a healthy planet and working with policymakers to establish laws that protect communities and the environment. For more information visit www.ecocenter.org and follow @Ecology_Center