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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Farewell to Teflon - (UPDATED with rebuttal by Trevor Butterworth)

by Nora Ephron

I feel sad about Teflon.

It was great while it lasted.

Now it turns out to be bad for you.

Or, put more exactly, now it turns out that a chemical that's released when you heat up Teflon is in everyone's blood stream -- and probably causes cancer and birth defects.

I loved Teflon.

I loved the no-carb ricotta pancake I invented last year, which can be cooked only on Teflon. I loved my Teflon-coated frying pan, which makes a beautiful steak. I loved Teflon as an adjective; it gave us a Teflon president (Ronald Reagan) and it even gave us a Teflon Don (John Gotti, whose Teflon-ness eventually wore out, making him an almost exact metaphorical duplicate of my Teflon pans). I loved the fact that Teflon was invented by someone named Roy J. Plunkett, whose name alone you might have thought would have insured Teflon against becoming a dangerous product.

But this year DuPont, who makes polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) resin, which is what Teflon was called when it first popped up as a laboratory accident back in 1938, reached a $16.5 million settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency; it seems the company knew all along that Teflon was bad for you. It's an American cliché by now: a publicly-traded company holds the patent on a scientific breakthrough, it turns out to cause medical problems, and the company knew all along. You can go to the bank on it.

But it's sad about Teflon. Teflon wasn't really good when it first came onto the market. The pans were light and skimpy and didn't compare to copper or cast iron. They were great for omelettes, and of course, nothing stuck to them, but they were nowhere near as good for cooking things that were meant to be browned, like steaks. But then manufacturers began to produce Teflon pans that were heavy-duty, and you could make a steak that was as dark and delicious as one made on the barbecue. Unfortunately, this involved heating your Teflon pan up to a very high temperature before adding the steak, which happens to be the very way perfluoroctanoic acid (PFOA) is released into the environment. PFOA is the bad guy here, and DuPont has promised to eliminate it from all Teflon products by 2015. I'm sure that will be a comfort to those of you under the age of forty, but to me it simply means that my last years on this planet will be spent, at least in part, scraping debris off my frying pans.
read the rest...Farewell to Teflon

And in the interest at getting to the truth, here is Trevor Butterworth's analysis of the issue...

Nora Ephron is a Threat To Your Health
June 14, 2006
Trevor Butterworth
F amous author blogs overcooked baloney on Teflon

The risks from Teflon have been debated ad nauseum by scientists and regulators – and even lawyers – over the past year. There is a rich trove of scientific literature, including reams of risk analysis from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) - and none of it reaches the conclusion that you are at risk from eating food cooked in Teflon pots and pans.

But even though Nora Ephron has clearly read none of this literature, the magical effortlessness of blogging allows her to make the following, ludicrous claim over at the Huffington Post:

“I feel sad about Teflon.

It was great while it lasted.

Now it turns out to be bad for you.

Or, put more exactly, now it turns out that a chemical that's released when you heat up Teflon is in everyone's blood stream -- and probably causes cancer and birth defects.”

The chemical she refers to is PFOA (perfluorootanoic acid) a precursor chemical to Teflon which effectively “glues” the non-stick coating to a pan or pot

Among the many certainties in this health scare is that PFOA is not released when you heat up a frying pan without oil. Why? Most of the PFOA is incinerated in the process of sticking the Telfon layer to the pan. What remains is so difficult to extract, you would need to EAT THE FRYING PAN.

Please, don’t try this at home.

read the rest...

and in answer to my own question as to why DuPont paid a fine if PFOA was harmless...

Did EPA Move the Goalposts to Fine DuPont?


Anonymous Trevor Butterworth said...

Nora Ephron clearly hasn't read an iota of the scientific literature on PFOA.

If she had consulted the EPA or FDA she would know that it is for practically impossible to ingest PFOA from a Teflon coated pan. The reason is that most of the PFOA is destroyed in the process of attaching the non-stick coating.

What remains is impossible to extract unless you have a fully-equipped scientific lab and dissolve the pan into the consistency of a smoothie and DRINK IT.

Even if you could extract PFOA from a frying pan, there is not a single study that has shown any health risk to humans from PFOA.

This isn't particularly surprising given that the PFOA in our blood, which averages five parts per billion is highly unreactive. Ten percent of rats dosed with 25,000 times this amount developed liver tumors. The EPA doesn't believe the MOA (mode of action) applies to humans.

Which is why they have gone on the record saying that it's OK to use cookware with teflon coatings.

Ephron's blog entry is nonsense. For more details on why this is pointless health scare, visit


Trevor Butterworth
Contributing editor

6/14/2006 9:20 PM  
Blogger pseudolus said...

Whic makes me wonder why DuPont paid a fine for this harmless chemical and agred to stop using it.

6/17/2006 7:58 PM  

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