Cooking with chemicals: The toxic lifecycle of PFAS used in nonstick kitchen products

Cooking with chemicals: The toxic lifecycle of PFAS used in nonstick kitchen products

Let’s start with the muffin pan—nonstick, 12-cup, heavy-weight steel. It is proudly made in the USA and even comes with a plastic lid and handle. And at less than $20 on Amazon, it sounds like the perfect gift for your office White Elephant exchange.

A pot made in China, highly coveted on wedding registries, may seem like a good choice.

What is really remarkable about these seemingly innocuous products is difficult to detect at first glance. Before entering the kitchen, they leave a toxic trail around the world of water pollution and human health risks.

To make the pan nonstick, the manufacturer coated it with polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), a PFAS-containing plastic (Teflon™ is a common brand name for these coatings). Unfortunately, the same properties that make PTFE ideal for nonstick cookware also make them dangerous to produce and dispose of. PFAS chemicals persist in the environment, and are thus exceptionally challenging and expensive to clean. Exposure to these chemicals has been linked to cancer and other health risks.

To illustrate the toxicity of manufacturing PFASs for use on nonstick cookware and bakeware, the Ecology Center’s Healthy Stuff Lab dug deeper into the supply chain of two products: a ProBeck nonstick 12-cup muffin pan by G&S Metal Co. and a Cuisinart Classic 8-inch skillet (Note: We chose these particular pans because we were able to find information about their supply chains.)

Our findings were grim.

Our investigation into American-made muffin pans revealed water pollution and human health risks near PFAS production facilities in three states.

At the Fayetteville Works plant on the banks of the Cape Fear River in North Carolina, Chemours makes GenX, a surfactant used to make PTFE. Since the 1980s, Chemours has released GenX into the air and water around the plant. While they have made progress over the past few decades to prevent toxic discharges, to prevent contamination of groundwater contamination more than 4,000 residential properties Keeps maintained,

From here, Chemours ships the GenX to its Teflon™ factory, Washington Works, near Parkersburg, West Virginia. Here, Chemours produces Teflon™-branded fluorochemicals, including chemicals used in cookware and bakeware. As outlined in the 2018 documentary, The Devil We Know, PFAS contamination from the factory has had health effects on nearby residents, including cancer, thyroid disease, and other health problems.

Teflon™ is then coated onto the steel coil at G&S Metal Products in Hamden, Connecticut. The facility is a gradual polluter of Connecticut water, with six violations of the Clean Water Act in the eight quarters we examined. Their wastewater discharge contains hexavalent chromium, lead and cyanide.

The coated metal coils are shipped to Cleveland, Ohio, products like our muffin pans are stamped, and packaged for delivery by companies like Amazon.

It was more challenging to uncover the skillet’s supply chain, but we found PAN linked to pollution in three countries, the US, India and China. Documented by social justice organizations China Labor Watch and Solider Suisse, abusive labor practices were also linked to skillet production, including a piece-rate wage system, mandatory overtime, fines on workers, poor occupational safety measures and unpaid wages.

The holidays are a season to spread joy, happiness and laughter. Unfortunately, nonstick cookware spreads water, soil, and air pollution.

If cookware is on your holiday list this year, consider gifting one without a PFAS coating. Durable, uncoated cooking and baking pans such as stainless steel, glass and cast iron not only avoid the toxic lifecycle of PFAS, but coated nonstick pans are likely to end.

To read more about PFAS in cookware, including our supply chain investigation, please visit the Ecology Center “what’s Cooking?” report good.

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