Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Decreasing Your Family's Exposure to PFOAs

What PFOAs are: PFOAs are a kind of PFC, (perfluorinated compound), a widely used group of chemicals that is in everything from cosmetics to cookware to those sheets in pizza boxes that soak up grease.  PFOA stands for perfluorooctanoic acid and makes up non-stick and waterproof coatings for several companies. 

Where PFOAs can be found: 
1.) Nonstick cookware like pots, pans, and utensils. 
2.) Nonstick bakeware like pizza trays, cookie sheets, muffin trays, brownie and cake pans, pie pans, etc.
3.) The inside of most ovens, toaster ovens, bread makers, some toasters and other appliances like space heaters and nonstick irons.
4.) Stain protection on items like rugs, carpet, furniture and mattress covers
5.) Carpet Cleaners
6.) Wrinkle free clothing
7.) Pizza box linings and the interior of popcorn bags.

The health effects of PFOAs:

1.) One of the not very well publicized effects of PFOAs is that when heated, they kill birds.  Check out the literature that came with your cookware.  I once purchased a stainless steel Faberware sauce pan that had a generic pamphlet to caring for cookware, used for all their products and they have a warning in it that when heated to a certain temperature, certain cookware can kill pet birds.

2.) Several residents of the town of Parkersburg, West Virginia, where Teflon is manufactured, sued DuPont for PFOA contamination and the health effects they suffered from water contamination.  While it was settled privately, there are accounts on scientific blogs and in articles and books such as Slow Death By Rubber Duck, where residents describe what they went through, from wildlife dying to birth defects in cattle that drank the contaminated water.

3.) The numerous PFOA related health issues for humans are generally just called "probable associations" due to limited studies.  Check out the following links for more information but if fumes from heated PFOAs can kill a bird, why cook with anything that contains them when there are so many other alternatives easily available?

How to decrease your exposure to PFOAs:

1.) Use safe, time-tested cookware like stainless steel and cast iron, and metal utensils.  Cast iron pans have a natural nonstick property when seasoned correctly with coats of oil over use and can easily be used for pancakes, eggs, dosas, etc.  To me, it's far better to spend a little more time cleaning a stainless steel pan or to eat a little extra oil in a cast iron than to ingest a little extra carcinogen.  And as an added bonus cast iron pans can add iron to the food that is cooked in them, especially when acidic foods are used.  There have been a lot of "green pans" in stores lately that are PFOA free but I have never tried them.  I'd rather use cookware that has been tested over several generations.

2.) Use safe, non-toxic stainless steel bakeware.  It won't leach aluminum or PFOAs into your baked goods the way scratched aluminum pans or nonstick pans will but is important to be aware that chances are your oven's interior is coated with Teflon or a nonstick equivalent.  There was a company called American Kitchen by Regal Ware who made stainless steel bakeware sets, made in America.  I'd purchased them for myself and family members on Amazon and other online sites but currently I cannot find anything by them online.  It looks like they may have gone out of business but you may be able to find them used. 

3.) Never use your oven's self-cleaning setting.  We actually bake in our oven sparingly and when we do, we open a window, even in winter.  It may not stop fumes from leaching into the food but it makes me feel better with my toddler and small dog in the house.

(While PFOA manufacturers claim their cookware is only unsafe at higher temperatures, (One manufacturer's own studies state that toxic particles start to form above 464 degrees Farenheit, and at 680 degrees Farenheit the cookware and bakeware release toxic gases including carcinogens), most pots and pans reach well over 680 degrees Farenheit when just heated on high.  It is unreasonable for companies to assume people who have all nonstick cookware will not be using the high setting on their stoves ever.*)

4.) Skip adding stain protection to your furniture when you purchase it.

5.) When we were getting new carpet in our house I spent hours over several days contacting the carpet manufacturer about PFOAs in their stainproof coating.  I was transferred over to several different representatives and managers who had no idea what I was talking about until finally one person told me they don't use it.  Although there are probably several carpet manufacturers who do not use PFOAs any more, I don't really trust the answer I was given when it came from a person who had never heard of PFOAs.  The problem with carpets when you have pets and babies is how much time they will spend on them, rolling, crawling, scooting, playing, etc.  Like your oven, be aware of what might be in your carpet.  I put comforters down in our playroom, where my son is barefoot the most, to decrease his exposure but unfortunately, it isn't always easy to keep toxins out of your house.  That is just the nature of the world we live in.

6.) Don't get your carpet cleaned with any products that use PFOAs.  There are a lot of "green carpet cleaners" out there but do your research and ask for the literature on their cleaners to decide for yourself how non-toxic they are.  Remember, there is no regulation for words like "natural" or "green" so it is easy for anyone to make these claims.

7.) Avoid waterproof or stainproof mattress pads.  For children use waterproof liners like those made by Naturepedic, which are totally free of PFOAs and only use a food grade plastic as a barrier.  They come in various sizes for crib mattresses, playpen mattresses and larger sized beds.

8.) Avoid men's clothing that say "wrinkle free" or an equivalent, as they have a nonstick coating on them.

9.) Buy irons that are not nonstick.  Avoid using space heaters and other appliances with a nonstick coating.

10.) When you order a pizza, ask them not to put the lining in the box.  Some employees may think you're crazy, and some may not be able to do it if the lining is glued into the box, but there is no harm in asking.  Ditch the microwave popcorn.  Make it yourself with kernels in a large pot on the stove.  You can experiment with your own spices and cheeses if you want flavored popcorn.

After reading all this, it can be easy to panic a little at the thought of what you've been exposing yourself or your children to.  Just remember it is impossible to totally eliminate toxins that have permeated our environment like PFOAs have, so my philosophy is to minimize my family's exposure as much as possible.  Just do your best and rest easy knowing you tried.

As a final note, PFOAs are being discontinued by 2015 by Dupont and other manufacturers.  If even the manufacturers are getting rid of it, that is something to think about, especially if you are using old or scratched nonstick cookware.  I've been meaning to update my oven for years now, as it is the only appliance that isn't stainless steel in my kitchen but I'm waiting until after 2015 to see what options will be available.

Further reading/resources:
1.) Slow Death By Rubber Duck  This is an incredible resource with more information on the health effects of common toxins in our environment.
2.) The Environmental Working Group  This site includes advice for what to do if you're stuck with Teflon cookware and cannot replace it.
3.) Teflon and Birds
4.) WiseGeek
5.) Veterinary Pet Insurance on Teflon's effects on pets
6.) The AARP on Microwave Popcorn

*(Smith, Rick & Lourie, Bruce; Slow Death By Rubber Duck, P 86).

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