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Your Frying Pan Is Cooking Up Cancer and Birth Defects

non-stick-sick image

Whether you’re creating a list for your wedding registry, or making an omelet for Sunday morning brunch, you’ve probably used a nonstick pan. What’s not to love? The slick surface makes it easier to cook popular breakfast items such as eggs and bacon, with minimal cleanup afterward. However, the chemicals used to create nonstick pans may be wreaking havoc on your health.

Dupont’s Legacy: Teflon Is Literally in Your Blood

What do nonstick pans, microwave popcorn packaging, pizza boxes and ski wax all have in common? Perfluorooctanoic acid. The same slick, nonstick coating keeps your pizza box from getting soggy and your skis gliding down the slopes. Perfluorooctanic acid is also associated with PFOAs and PFTEs. It’s also referred to as C8, which references its chemical composition1.

C8 became a staple of production in the U.S. as the Industrial Age and two world wars shaped the relationship between American factories and American consumers. In 1954, an engineer first used C8 to create nonstick coating for a pan. The innovation spread like wildfire and became a major money-maker2.Dupont Factories was on the ground floor of the new coating, and they used C8 to create nonstick pans, which have been around ever since.

However, studies that are now surfacing — and proving that Dupont knew for decades what it was actually doing — that trace the consequences of C8, from factory workers, to our streams and rivers today.

Dupont and other factories got a true toehold in the global market with the advent of World War II. The supplies, manpower and production needed to feed millions of troops across the world, on either side of the war, required innovation on the home front that hadn’t been necessary before.

dupont-timeline

During the war, Dupont made millions by providing “plastic wrap, vinyl, and Teflon, which was used to coat the valves and seals of the Manhattan Project’s uranium enrichment equipment3.” Dupont had to streamline its process, making use of the conveyor belt production system, in order to keep up with demand. After the war, when American shopping habits transformed and demand exploded, Dupont was perfectly poised to meet the demands of a different market: the American consumer.

RELATED: Beer and Soda Companies Are Still Coating Cans With BPA

However, the main reason why elements such as plastic and Teflon became so popular wasn’t just because of ease. The new products quickly captured the popular imagination. A Science Digest report3 from the era envisioned the life of a “Plastic Man,” who would enter a world of  “color and bright shining surfaces, where childish hands find nothing to break … no crevices to harbor dirt or germs.” He would live his life “surrounded on every side by this tough, safe, clean material which human thought has created.”

This envisioned danger-free zone couldn’t be further from the truth. The majority of Americans today have C8 in their blood3. Those statistics skyrocket for workers who spent their careers in Dupont’s plants after World War II.

However, most people haven’t worked in a factory that utilized C8, much less one of Dupont’s own facilities. So how then has C8 entered the bloodstreams of most Americans?

THE DU PONT CHEMICAL PLANT AT BELLE POLLUTES THE EARLY MORNING AIR
After years of polluting the morning air, the EPA issued a corrective action against DuPont’s West Virginia Belle Plant in 1998. Courtesy: National Archives at College Park / Photo taken in June of 1973

Teflon Fever

When we think about Teflon or nonstick pans, one thing comes to mind: cooking. Most people think nothing about documentaries or scathing reports that expose the health impacts of Teflon. Concerns about Teflon pans start with their main purpose of making cleanup easy.

Yet, standing over a pan and inhaling the gases coming from the surface, as well as being present in the room, can be even more harmful than ingesting scratched-off bits of Teflon coating that inevitably make their way into our food.

“At normal cooking temperatures, PFTE-coated cookware releases various gases and chemicals that present mild and severe toxicity4.

One of the main ingredients in the PFOA family is polytetrafluoroethylenes, which is abbreviated as PFTE. These are the gases that “present mild to severe toxicity” and are known to have caused lung damage5.

However, there are two other initial indicators of its toxicity. Many people keep pet birds in their homes, and these birds — particularly if you own a parakeet, or a Japanese quail — have become involuntary and tragic lab examples. If you leave a nonstick pan on the stove — the studies5 conducted involved time periods of approximately 4 hours — these PFTE fumes build up to such a toxic level, that they kill these pet birds present in the home.

However, the toxic nature of these fumes isn’t limited to parakeets. There is a medical condition that humans experience, that commonly mimics the flu. It’s usually referred to as Polymer fume fever, or Teflon fever. This is because “once the pot or pan reaches 680 degrees Fahrenheit, they release at least six toxic gases, including two carcinogens and monofluoroacetic acids, a chemical warfare agent that is deadly to humans even at low doses5.”

Most people don’t cook bacon and eggs at 680 degrees Fahrenheit — they cook at far lower temperatures. This is what causes the short, intense reaction of Teflon fever. Since the symptoms mimic the flu, they include chills, headaches, fevers and a mild cough. Acute lung injury may be sustained in worse cases.

However, the effect of the chemicals used to create nonstick cookware goes far beyond people making their own breakfasts.

DuPont Linden New Jersey
Industrial waste from DuPont’s Linden, New Jersey facility seep into the Arthur Kill River in the New York area. Rivers in the region carry raw and partially-digested sewage along with chemical and industrial wastes into the waters of the New York and New Jersey Bight. Accumulations of these wastes presents one of the most critical stresses to the Bight’s environment.
Courtesy: National Archives at College Park / Photo taken June of 1974

The Impact of Long-Term Teflon Exposure

An investigatory expose titled “The Teflon Toxin” tells the story of a lab analyst in the Teflon division of a Dupont plant in West Virginia. The analyst, Ken Wamsley, is now over 70 years old. He is living proof of the studies that posit dangerous cancers as a result of long-term exposure to C8.

REVISIONIST NUTRITION: Corporate Agribusiness Is Slowly Stealing Your Health

In Wamsley’s case, he worked at Dupont for almost 40 years. As an employee in an impoverished area of the U.S., his position was highly sought after. The wages of a lab analyst, coupled with the fact that Dupont paid for college courses to further his education, allowed Wamsley to stay with the company for the majority of his working life.

Wamsley’s main role was that “ … he measured levels of a chemical called C8 in various products. The chemical was everywhere,” as Wamsley2 remembers it. “Bubbling out of the glass flasks he used to transport it, wafting into a smelly vapor that formed when he heated it.” A fine powder, possibly C8, dusted the laboratory drawers and floated in the hazy lab air.

At the time, Wamsley and his coworkers weren’t particularly concerned about the strange stuff. “We never thought about it, never worried about it,” he said5 recently. He believed it was harmless, “like a soap. Wash your hands [with it], your face, take a bath.”

When Wamsley was interviewed for this article in 2015, he had suffered rectal cancer, surgery and ongoing digestive issues that still weren’t resolved. These issues match what scientists and researchers are worried about when it comes to long-term C8 exposure.

how long nonstick surfaces linger

Why Most Americans Have PFOA in Their Blood

However, the issues with C8 don’t stop with Teflon fever. The Huffington Post3 wrote a lengthy series of articles on the environmental ramifications of C8 dumps in West Virginia. The writer of this article interviewed a family who had lived on a West Virginia farm for over a century. The Tennant family farm was close to Washington Works, the same Dupont plant that Ken Wamsley worked at. In the early 1980s, Dupont offered to buy some land from the Tennants, in order to use it as a waste dump.

Prior to dumping it on land and in landfills, Dupont had a history of filling storage drums with Teflon waste, sending them out to sea and sinking them. However, in this case, the Tennants had reservations.

“[They] were wary of having a waste dump so close to the farm. But DuPont assured them it would only dispose of non-toxic material … and so they agreed to sell. Then, at some point in the mid-1990s, the water in the creek turned black and foamy, and the family began finding dead deer tangled in the brambles. The cattle started going blind, sprouting tumors, vomiting blood. Desperate to find out what was killing the animals, Jim and his brother Earl dissected some of the bodies. ‘As soon as you cut the skin loose, you get some of the foulest smells you’ve ever smelled,’ says Jim. ‘The innards was bright green.’ Soon the cow carcasses were piling up faster than the Tennants could bury them. Family members were being hospitalized for breathing problems and chemical burns3.

One of the primary issues associated with PFOAs, PFTEs and other long-chain compounds isn’t even their existence, prevalence or devastating consequences. Their capacity to endure in the environment for decades, and accumulate in tissues, is what contributes to their danger.

PFOA waste tossed in a landfill 30 years ago could still be leaching toxins into the environment. This is the case for PFOA levels found in your bloodstream, too. If you existed in a toxin-free bubble for four years, the level of PFOAs in your bloodstream would only go down by half. This is how almost everyone in the U.S. has levels of PFOA in their blood6. As these toxin levels build up and accumulate, so do potential health risks.

DuPont Cleveland, Ohio
Pollution from DuPont’s Ohio facility turns the water of Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River to a greenish color.
Courtesy: National Archives at College Park / Photo taken May of 1973

PFOAs Are Suspected of Causing Birth Defects

Sue Bailey worked in the Teflon division of Washington Works, the same Dupont division responsible for dumping toxic waste near the Tennant farm, and where Ken Wamsley worked. Bailey’s task—while pregnant—was directing C8 waste into disposal pits on-site.

In January of 1981, when Bailey’s child was born, “the baby had only half a nose and a ragged eyelid that gaped down to the middle of his cheek. The doctors warned that he might not live until morning3.”

While Bailey’s baby did live—after numerous surgeries—another Teflon employee gave birth to a baby with similar defects. In response to these issues—ones that exposed the truth found in industry reports that were kept secret—Dupont assigned lab workers to analyze C8. One of them was Ken Wamsley.

A Chemical Buildup: From PFOA to PFA

According to the Scientific American7, “most manufacturers of nonstick pans have phased out the use of perfluorooctanoic acid, which is a suspected carcinogen.” While this is the case, it’s impossible to create a nonstick surface without chemicals. From what scientists have deduced so far, these chemicals are equally toxic to the ones that they are replacing. PFOAs are being replaced with PFAs — and a study8 conducted by Danish scientists suggest that women with high PFA levels have their chance of a miscarriage increased sixteen times.

The issue with most of the thousands of chemicals utilized is that the majority of them are untested. Many people — including Sue Bailey, the Tennants, and Ken Wamsley — feel as if they were used as pawns in a chemistry experiment that they didn’t sign up for. The ramifications are still playing out today, especially because most chemicals used in non-stick surfaces are untested and unsafe for human consumption.

According to Mercola8, the documented health effects—not to mention the ones that remain undocumented still—include the following: “liver toxicity, adverse neurobehavioral effects, tumors in multiple organ systems, liver malfunction, high cholesterol, reduced birth weight and size, decreased immune response to vaccines, reduced hormone levels and delayed puberty, obesity, ulcerative colitis, hypothyroidism, testicular and kidney cancers, neonatal toxicity and death.”

Don’t Throw Away Your Nonstick Pan

Your first reaction may be to disavow your nonstick pan and throw it in the trash. However, you shouldn’t do that either. The environment has been taxed by PFOAs for decades, especially due to illicit waste-dumping practices. Even if your nonstick pan goes straight to the landfill, it will still leach PFOAs into the environment for years to come.

For most people, there’s no truly safe way to dispose of their nonstick cookware, or other PFOA-laden products. The best option, for most people, is to simply stop using their pans and store them in a safe place. Whether it’s a rarely-used cupboard, an attic, or a cardboard box full of other disgraced cookware items, storing your pan is the best option. When you go to cook your next omelet or pancakes, go for alternative pans that don’t have a nonstick coating. If you’re still in love with that slick, ease-laden surface, then try using a cast iron pan. When seasoned properly, food doesn’t stick to their surface, and provides a similar easy cooking experience.

Protect Your Health From Toxic Chemicals With the Thermo Diet

From the toxic chemicals in plastics to the endocrine disrupting additives in your meat, the Western lifestyle is slowly stealing your health. You may not immediately notice the health implications of drinking from BPA-laden containers or eating a turkey that has been injected with antibiotics, but the cumulative effects over time will leave you hormonally imbalanced and suffering from micronutrient deficiencies that can lead to disease and poor health.

Eating organic produce and grass-fed meat is a good first step to reclaim your health, but it’s just the beginning of your journey. Learning how to optimize your diet and lifestyle for hormonal and metabolic health will reinvigorate your body and help you return to a state of total wellness. The Thermo Diet will radically change how you perceive both your well-being and the world around you.

Read more about restoring your health in the toxic Western world with The Beginner’s Guide to the Thermo Diet.

NEXT: The Hidden History of Why Vegetable Oil Is in Your Kitchen Will Shock You

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Cassandra Barthuly

Cassandra is a writer with over five years of experience. Her areas of expertise include food and drink, health and wellness, and digital marketing.
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