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Teflon pans are bad for your health

Q: I've always used nonstick Teflon pans to cook with. Lately I've heard that they could be harmful to my health. What's the deal?

For years, there has been growing awareness of the potential health risks associated with Teflon coatings used in nonstick cookware. In 2006, a news release from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) confirmed that there are serious health concerns regarding their safety.

According to the release, a panel of experts informed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that a toxic chemical used in nonstick pans "pollutes nearly every American's blood." Even more alarming, the majority of experts on the panel called the chemical a "likely human carcinogen" despite the EPA's proposal to designate it as merely a "suggested human carcinogen."

The chemical, known as PFOA, has been used in industrial manufacturing since the 1950s. The EWG refers to PFOA as an "indestructible" chemical - which means that it never breaks down in the environment. Every molecule of PFOA that has ever been produced is still in our air, our water, and our bodies. PFOA ends up in your blood when you use nonstick pans, and it remains there for as long as you live.

As the news release pointed out, PFOA may also determine how long you live: it causes cancer, birth defects, and other health risks in animals. According to EWG senior scientist Tim Kropp, PFOA meets the government's own criteria of a substance likely to cause cancer in humans.

A 2005 EWG study showed that more than 95 percent of Americans have PFOA in their blood. Tests commissioned by the EWG have also found that the chemical enters babies' blood while they are still in the womb. Citing statistics from the Cookware Manufacturers Association, the EWG reports that 90 percent of aluminum cookware purchased in the U.S. in 2001 was coated with nonstick chemicals.

According to the 2006 press release, the EPA signed an agreement with several companies that manufacture PFOA with the goal of eliminating its use by 2015.

In addition to Teflon and other nonstick cookware, many other common consumer products are made with chemicals that can break down into PFOA in your body. These include some cosmetics, cleaning products, clothing and carpeting with stain-repellant coatings, and fast-food packaging.

There are many healthy alternatives to cooking with nonstick pots and pans. Stainless steel and cast iron are two of your best bets.

Nonstick cookware may seem more convenient in the short run, but in the long run you could pay a very high price for that convenience.

Dr. Laurie Steelsmith is a naturopathic physician and licensed acupuncturist in Honolulu, as well as author of the new book Natural Choices for Women's Health, published by Random House. You can reach her and read her past columns at
www.DrSteelsmith.com. This column is for information only. Consult your health provider for medical advice.

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