Undisclosed PFAS coatings common on cookware, research shows

Ecology Center tested 24 nonstick cooking and baking pans to document hidden hazards and highlight readily available safer pan alternatives

(Ann Arbor, MI)--New findings from the Ecology Center on nonstick cookware show that despite growing concern about the toxicity of “forever chemicals” known as PFAS, most nonstick cooking pans and some baking pans are coated with a polymer form of PFAS called PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene). PTFE, best known by the brand name Teflon™, is typically made using several hazardous PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances) that have polluted drinking water across the globe. 

The Ecology Center study, What’s Cooking? PFAS and Other Chemical Hazards in Nonstick Cooking and Baking Pans,” found that 79% of tested nonstick cooking pans and 20% of tested nonstick baking pans were coated with PTFE. Researchers tested 14 nonstick cooking pans and 10 nonstick baking pans to identify their coatings, choosing cookware that represented a range of brands and prices. The sample drew from 10 popular retailers, including discount “dollar” stores and top cookware brands as identified by Consumer Reports Magazine.

Of the 24 pans tested, two were made in the U.S. and the rest in South or East Asian countries, highlighting the global nature of PFAS production and pollution. The report includes case studies of two of the tested pans' supply chains and associated environmental contamination and labor issues.

Researchers also 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 free of PFAS. But other label claims, such as “PFOA-free” did not mean PFAS-free. In fact, most pans in this study labeled “PFOA-free” were coated with PTFE without disclosing that.

 “Companies often tell us certain chemicals are not in a product,” says Melissa Cooper Sargent, Ecology Center environmental health advocate. “But when they don’t tell us what is in the product, we cannot easily make an informed choice.

This report is a part of the Ecology Center’s broader mission to phase out nonessential uses of PFAS in order to protect drinking water. One of the common uses of PFAS is to make fluoropolymers, especially PTFE, and one of the biggest markets for PTFE is coatings on cookware. PTFE-based pan coatings can release PFAS into the environment throughout their lifespan, especially during manufacture, but also through high-temperature cooking use 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.

In addition to PTFE, the study identified several other plastic coating types on some pans, none of which were disclosed on the packaging. One coating type was unexpected: A bisphenol A (BPA)-based epoxy coating was found on two of the baking pans and one of the cooking pans. Since BPA is known to migrate into food from BPA-based epoxy in food cans, these pans present a possible hazard that requires further research.

Safer, more durable alternatives are readily available and provide good cooking performance. The Ecology Center suggests 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.

“Non-stick pans coated with PTFE are convenient, but unnecessary, and contribute to the serious problem of PFAS pollution,” according to Dr. Gillian Miller, senior scientist at the Ecology Center. “When you need a new pan, consider a more durable and less harmful replacement.”

In addition to the online report, the Ecology Center’s cooking and baking pan test results will be included in the free Chrome Extension and Mobile App Clearya to provide consumers seamless access to the information while shopping online at Amazon, Walmart and other retailers. Clearya notifies the user when there are unsafe ingredients in makeup, personal care, baby care, cleaning and other products while shopping.

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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

 

 

 

Published on December 15, 2020