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Another Reason to Ditch Your Non-Stick Cookware

Non-Stick Frying PanA recent study examined blood samples that were taken from California women at different time periods -- the 1960s, the 1980s, and 2009.  They were examined for the presence of 12 perfluorinated compounds (PFCs).

In each time period, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) was present at the highest concentration, followed by perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).

According to the study, as reported by Green Med Info:

“We found the highest levels of PFOS ... and perfluorohexane sulfonate ... in the 1960s samples, possibly reflecting widespread use of precursor PFCs ... For PFOA, there was an approximately 10-fold increase in median concentrations from the 1960s ... to the1980s ... and a slight drop in the 2009 samples ... For longer chain perfluorocarboxylic acids (PFCAs), there was a continuous build-up in serum from the 1960s to 2009.”

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

When you use a non-stick pan to fry an egg or sauté some veggies, you probably won't experience any immediate symptoms that would make you think the activity is harmful to your health … but it's well documented that when these pans are heated the non-stick coating begins breaking down, releasing toxins into the air surrounding you.

And new research has revealed that these toxins are accumulating in human blood at an alarming rate, and the concern is that they are leading to chronic disease over time.

About 70 percent of cookware sold in the United States contains a non-stick coating that contains PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and other perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), which are used to make grease-resistant food packaging and stain-resistant clothing as well. Even though there are many names, what you can take to the bank is that if it is non-stick it has some type of fluoride-impregnated coating that is providing the slipperiness.

The widespread use of these toxins is having an impact, as the first study to investigate temporal changes of PFCs over the past 50 years found there was an approximately 10-fold increase in blood levels of PFOA from the 1960s to the1980s, followed by a slight drop in 2009. For longer chain perfluorocarboxylic acids (PFCAs), "there was a continuous build-up in serum from the 1960s to 2009," the researchers noted.

PFCs, Including PFOA, are Probably in Your Body Right Now

PFCs are, unfortunately, now prevalent in Americans. The CDC's Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, 2009, which is considered the most comprehensive assessment to date of the exposure of the U.S. population to chemicals in our environment, detected not one but 12 types of PFCs in Americans, including PFOA.

This group of chemicals is among 75 that have never before been measured in the U.S. population, but now is showing up with great frequency. Among them are perfluorooctyl sulfonates (PFOS), a chemical that showed concerns for environmental persistence, bioaccumulation and toxicity in the 1990s. After discussion with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the manufacturer stopped production of the chemicals.

However, PFOA and other similar chemicals are still being used, although they are undergoing current EPA investigation. As the EPA stated:

"The agency began investigating PFOA in 1990s and found that it, too, is very persistent in the environment, is found at very low levels both in the environment and in the blood of the general U.S. population, and causes developmental and other adverse effects in laboratory animals."

The EPA also developed the PFOA Stewardship Program, which called on eight companies to reduce both facility emissions of PFOA, precursor chemicals that can break down to PFOA, and related higher homologue chemicals, and product content levels of these chemicals by 95 percent no later than 2010. The program also calls for the companies to work toward the elimination of these chemicals from emissions and products by 2015.

Unfortunately, this is only a voluntary program, and much of the damage may already have been done, as PFCs have been said to be completely resistant to biodegradation. This means even if PFOA is banned, the countless consumer products that contain it will continue to contaminate the earth indefinitely. According to the CDC's Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR):

"Once in your body, perfluoroalkyls tend to remain unchanged for long periods of time. The most commonly used perfluoroalkyls (PFOA and PFOS) stay in the body for many years. It takes approximately 4 years for the level in the body to go down by half, even if no more is taken in."

So, at least until PFCs are completely out of consumer products (and even after), it's important to know where you're most likely to be exposed. In addition to non-stick cookware, PFCs can also be found in:

  • Stain-resistant clothing
  • Stain-resistant carpeting (vacuuming carpet that contains stain-resistant coating will release these chemicals into the air to be circulated in your home)
  • Microwave popcorn (PFOA may not only present in the inner coating of the bag, but it also may migrate to the oil from the packaging during heating)
  • Contaminated drinking water (particularly near PFC manufacturing facilities)

PFOA and Other "Non-Stick" Chemicals Could be Harming Your Health

So what, exactly, is so dangerous about PFOA and other PFCs? As the CDC stated:

"PFOA can remain in the body for long periods of time. In laboratory animals given large amounts, PFOA can affect growth and development, reproduction, and injure the liver. More research is needed to assess the human health effects of exposure to PFOA."

So far the research that has been done has led to concerning findings. One study in Human Reproduction found that PFOS increased the odds of infertility anywhere from 70 to 134 percent, while PFOA was linked to a 60 to 154 percent increase in the chance of infertility. There has also been some very concerning research regarding PFOA and thyroid function. People with the highest 25% of PFOA concentrations (above 5.7ng/ml) were more than twice as likely to have thyroid disease than those with the lowest 50% of PFOA concentrations (below 4.0ng/ml).

Your thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland in your throat area that contains thyroglobulin protein, which binds to iodine to form hormones, which in turn influence essentially every organ, tissue and cell in your body. Thyroid hormones are used by every cell of your body to regulate metabolism and body weight by controlling the burning of fat for energy and heat. Thyroid hormones are also required for growth and development in children.

Thyroid disease, if left untreated, can lead to heart disease, infertility, muscle weakness, osteoporosis and, in extreme cases, coma or death. Exposure to these toxic chemicals is likely one reason why thyroid disorders are becoming so widespread.

For more on the toxic effects of PFCs, read the Environmental Working Group's report on these global contaminants. It's based on a review of 50,000 pages of regulatory studies and government documents, internal documents from PFC manufacturers, and an examination of independent studies on PFCs. Among the health concerns noted in the report are:

Cancer Hypothyroidism
Reproductive problems Birth defects
Immune system problems Organ damage

How Can You Avoid These Dangerous Non-Stick Chemicals?

You can keep your exposure as low as possible by avoiding (or getting rid of) products that contain PFCs. This includes:

Non-stick cookware (choose either ceramic or glass) Microwave popcorn Packaging for greasy foods (including paper and cardboard packaging)
Stain-proof clothing Stain-resistant carpeting Carpet and fabric stain protectors
Flame retardants and products that contain them