Non-polymer PFAS can build up in blood protein of animals, and is not always removed quickly. This means that predators eating PFAS-contaminated food will have higher levels in their bloodstream, and concentrations can increase up the food chain. Studies suggest that build up of PFAS is similar to those of other Persistent Organic Pollutants such as DDT.PFAS are estimated to be settling in arctic regions at rates of tens to hundreds of kilograms per year (25-850kg per year), depending on the specific PFAS chemical in question. Certain PFAS are released as gases to the environment and are blown a long way by wind and air currents in the atmosphere,. These gas PFAS will over time degrade to more persistent chemicals like PFOS and PFOA. This may be one reason why PFAS of environmental concern have been found in remote regions such as the Arctic as well as near PFAS production sitesPFAS including PFOS and PFOA have been found in air samples around Europe. The chemicals are found in small quantities, but appear in almost all samples tested. PFAS enters the atmosphere both from factories and the air inside our homes. PFAS is found in treated waste water from industrial and domestic sources and has been found in both rivers and groundwater. Conventional drinking water processes will not remove PFAS.PFAS-coated clothes that are thrown away will often end up either incinerated or in landfill. Unless incinerated at very high temperatures (>1000oC), fluorinated polymers could release more harmful PFAS during burning. PFAS of environmental concern have also been found in landfill leachate. Non-polymer PFAS are used in the production of fluorinated polymers. The manufacture of stain-resistant finishes generally releases these PFASs into the environment, both by air and water emissions. They are very hard to remove during water treatment. Workers in textiles factories are some of the population most exposed to these potentially harmful chemicals. Small quantities of PFAS will be removed during wash and wear of products containing PFAS. This includes fluorinated polymers used on stain-resistant coatings, and non-polymers that remain on clothes after production (Lassen et al. 2015).Most UK waste still ends up in landfill, and this includes PFAS-containing products. Studies have shown that the liquid coming from landfills (known as leachate) often contain non-polymer PFAS chemicals. In the USA the total quantities were estimated at 563-638 kg in 2013. To properly break down PFAS chemicals high temperature (1000oC or more) incineration is recommended. Incineration of municipal waste does not necessarily reach these temperatures (min temp. required is 850oC), and the incomplete breakdown could release non-polymer PFAS.Wash and wear of clothing that contains PFAS-based stain-resistant or water repellent finishes release PFAS to the environment. Coatings are thought to lose effectiveness after 20-30 washes. This can include non-polymer PFAS, remnant from production or as a break-down product of side-chain polymers (Lassen et al. 2015). The manufacture of stain-resistant finishes releases PFAS into the environment, both by air and water emissions. PFAS are very hard to remove during water treatment. Industrial emissions are estimated to be the biggest source of these chemicals to the environment.

Non-Stick Cookware: A Sticky Situation?

Consumer products are a major source of exposure for many of us to the PFAS (per- or poly-fluorinated alkyl substances) group of over 4,700 chemicals 1,2,3. One area of focus has been PFAS in cookware, with concern over the impact these chemicals can have on human health. They are linked to multiple health issues including; cancers, reduced fertility, liver disease, reduced vaccine efficacy and hormone imbalance5,6.

Characterised by their high persistence and mobility in the environment, PFAS are found in every corner of the globe and can remain in the environment for hundreds of years, while also practically impossible to remove. By making informed product choices and restricting PFAS use, we can reduce our exposure to PFAS and prevent any more entering the environment.

Do non-stick pans contain PFAS?

Because of their water and oil repelling abilities and low friction, PFAS are used extensively in cookware3. These non-stick and easy-clean properties make them a very popular and convenient cookware choice4. Most non-stick coatings are produced using a PFAS sub-group called fluoropolymers, particularly PTFE. These are better known by brand names such as Teflon, QuanTanium, DuPont Autograph, Granitstone, DuraGlide and Greblon 5,6. Research by the Ecology Center found that “79% of tested non-stick cooking pans and 20% of tested non-stick baking pans were coated with PTFE”7.

But weren’t the harmful chemicals removed from non-stick already?

Another PFAS called PFOA was used in the production process of PTFE non-stick cookware for many years. However, links to health issues, such as liver function disruption and increasing risks of certain cancers led to PFOA being banned in the EU in 2008, the USA in 2013 and globally under the Stockholm convention in 2019 8,9,10. Though many manufacturers voluntarily removed PFOA from production processes before these bans, cookware predating them could still contain it.

New PFAS have been developed to replace PFOA, including one known as GenX 5. However, GenX effects on human health and the environment are as concerning as those of PFOA, and does not currently face the same restrictions 1,5,11,12. This means that although one harmful PFAS has been removed from the production of non-stick cookware, it has been replaced with another that is potentially even more harmful.

Is PTFE in cookware safe?
There is much we still do not know about PTFE, though what we do know is concerning, with evidence indicating risks to health and the environment, while there is limited evidence suggesting its safety 5 . Research has found that when PTFE coated cookware is heated to temperatures commonly reached under normal cooking use, it can start to break down, releasing a number of chemicals 1,3,13. Also, other (non-fluoropolymer) PFAS may be present on cookware coated along with fluoropolymers such as PTFE, which can leach into foods5.

PFAS may also enter the body through micro and nano plastics released from scratches on a non-stick surface. Research shows millions of these particles containing PFAS could be released under normal cooking conditions, contaminating cooked food that is then eaten14. The impact of eating PTFE on human health is not fully understood1,5.

One of the proposed health benefits of non-stick cookware is that the amount of fat used in cooking can be reduced. However, research has found links between PFAS and health issues such as increased cholesterol levels and heart disease, and most recently between higher levels of blood PFAS and weight gain15,16.


Figure 1: PFAS Pollution from Non-Stick Pans Credit: Ecology Center 6

Not just in the kitchen
The impacts of PFAS in cookware are not just in the kitchen, they can be released at many points from production to disposal. Production can release PFAS into the environment through waste water and air pollution, while emissions have also been found to contain potent greenhouse gases, contributing to climate change 5,6,17. Emissions from fluoropolymer production sites have been found to contain other PFAS, with these emissions spreading far through the environment, contaminating waterways, land and the air 18,19.

Disposal of non-stick cookware is another problem20,21. In landfill sites fluoropolymer coatings degrade over time, leaching PFAS into the surrounding soil and water systems 19,20. Incineration does not solve the problem either, as the high temperatures result in the release of PFAS and fluorinated greenhouse gases into the air, while the ash waste can also contain PFAS, which is then buried in landfill sites 6,19. Recycling can be problematic too, as removing the PTFE coating from the metal base often uses high temperatures that lead to further PFAS emissions 5,6. With no effective method to dispose of non-stick cookware, the best solution is to stop its production altogether.

How can I tell if there’s PFAS in a pan?
It can be difficult to tell if cookware contains PFAS without laboratory testing, however there may be clues. If a product label states that a product is ‘PTFE-Free’ then it’s likely it doesn’t contain PFAS, as there is no PTFE present, and so no PFAS production aids were used. However, if a label claims to be ‘PFOA-Free’ then the coating is only free from PFOA and likely still contains other PFAS 3,6,7.

Should I throw away my non-stick pans?
If your non-stick pans are in good condition and are used as the manufacturer’s directions specify, they should be of minimal risk. However, if your cookware was produced prior to PFOA bans, the non-stick coating is damaged or you are using it for purposes beyond manufacturers recommendations, then replacing the cookware with an alternative may be worth considering.

What are the Alternatives?
Supermarkets represent the largest retailers of non-stick cookware products, representing 59.7% of the market in 2020 4. As a result they are in a strong position to respond and capitalise on changing consumer demands for healthy and environmentally friendly cookware options. Luckily there are a number of alternatives available to reduce your exposure to PFAS in the kitchen 6,22. These include: stainless steel, cast iron, enamel cast iron, ceramic, and glass. A list of PFAS-free cookware brands can be found on our website here.



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