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MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) - P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924

March, 2006

 

Teflon¨ Is Not Your Little Friend
By Marie Siegenthaler

DuPont recently disclosed to the public that Teflon¨, their nonstick cookware line, isn't so much a housewife's best friend as a mother's worst enemy.
We have known for years that Teflon¨ releases polymer fumes when heated, which can be fatal to birds and has been known to cause an ailment of flu-like symptoms known as polymer fume fever. DuPont admits openly that Teflon¨ is toxic to birds when heated. Polymer fume fever, being commonly mistaken for flu and therefore less commonly reported, hasn't had enough studies conducted to know how common it is or the effects. It was only recently released that the fumes are of a more toxic nature and can have drastic effects on the human body, especially the lungs.

Teflon¨ contains a host of toxins, many of which do not break down in the environment and/or remain in the human system for up to 30 years. Among the most toxic include perfluoroisobutylene (PFIB), polytetrafluoroethylene-perfluoromethylvinylether (MFA), carbonyl fluoride (COF2, a chemical not unlike WWII nerve gas), and hydrofluoric acid (HF).

Also on the list of ingredients include two carcinogens, two global warming gases, and two more used in chemical warfare. Also among these chemicals is ammonium perfluorooctante, or C-8. This agent is thought to be the culprit of birth defects in two factory workers, but its effects are largely unknown.

It shouldn't sound strange that 95% of Americans have blood contaminated with C-8. It has been a key ingredient in Teflon¨ since 1946, the year it was patented, and has since grown into several uses. In addition to cooking uses, Teflon¨ is used as a nonstick coating for automobile parts, furniture, eyeglasses, and Martian rover parts. Teflon¨ is also used as a fabric protector and lubricant. Levels of C-8 found in humans are uncomfortably close to those of lab animals. Children, for reasons unknown, have the highest levels of C-8 fumes.

Beyond hazards in our own homes, DuPont has other violations on their conscience. DuPont's Parkersburg, West Virginia plant has been draining their toxic waste into the Ohio River, poisoning the local water supply to the point where two wells were closed because of high levels of C-8.

Further, to test its safety, both human volunteers and dogs alike were given cigarettes laced with Teflon¨. As the cigarettes burned, not only were the subjects inhaling cigarette smoke, but also the fumes of Teflon¨. Nine out of the ten humans got polymer fume fever. This test was conducted in 1962, yet the only people it benefited were the workers, who were henceforth required to wear respirators in areas with poor ventilation and when Teflon¨ is heated above 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

It takes only a few minutes for a Teflon¨ pan to reach that temperature on a conventional stovetop set on high. Their workers are given respirators; the consumers weren't even given a warning on the product.

But even the respirators might not be as effective as hoped: Sue Bailey, working at DuPont at the time, gave birth to a deformed baby in 1981. At least one other mother gave birth to a child with defects. Workers with longer exposure were also found to have trouble remembering, trouble learning, and inhibited motor skills. The fumes also caused damage to lungs, kidneys, and liver; decreased white blood cell count; and even death to lab rats when temperatures were as low as 464ˇ F.

DuPont has known about the dangers of Teflon¨ since 1962. We found out just this year. That is over forty years that DuPont has been lying to us. The dangers of tobacco were also hidden for years. What other lies have our industries and corporations been keeping from us? How many allegedly safe products are poisoning us? Moreover, how many corporations are shamelessly lying about the nature of their products? What do we as consumers have protecting us from ill-made merchandise that could potentially threaten our health? What is safe and who do we trust?

In response to the EPA's discovery of the dangers of C-8, DuPont and 7 other US companies have agreed to eliminate its use by 2015 at the latest. Until then, use cast iron or stainless steel for cooking to protect yourself from the harmful fumes of Teflon¨.

Meanwhile, the people of Little Hocking, Ohio, continue to drink water contaminated with DuPont's pollutants; C-8 continues to contaminate aquatic organisms, Arctic pole bear, and a vast majority of Americans' blood; and DuPont's website continues to herald that all of their products are completely safe.


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