Teflon and Scotchgard
Q: My husband and I are looking for new furniture and while shopping have been asked, “Do you want Teflon coating to protect the fabric from stains?” Is it safe?
—Debbie Greene, via e-mail
Q: I have read and heard much about non-stick skillet coatings breaking down and contaminating the food that has been cooked. Could you offer insight about this?
—Charlotte Parker; Corpus Christi, Texas
A: Turns out, both rely on perfluorochemicals (PFCs) to achieve their seductive properties. Recent findings from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency raise cautionary health warnings that should be reason to forego convenience and accept a little more elbow grease as part of our daily household regimens.
Of concern is the potential release of the chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA, or C8) from PFCs, both in the environment and in the human body. According to the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group (EWG), the EPA has launched the largest scientific review in the agency’s history on the toxicity of PFOA, which is one of the toxins used to manufacture Teflon and which can be produced from heated Teflon pans. In light of these findings, the EWG is requesting action by the Consumer Products Safety Council to require a warning label on the coated cookware. Studies by 3M showing elevated blood levels in American children of C8, at levels 140 times higher than EPA’s “safe” level of 0.04 parts per billion, were a catalyst for the inquiry. This is of particular concern because of the persistence of these chemicals.
Meanwhile, responding to pressure from the EPA (though unbeknownst to most consumers), 3M reformulated its Scotchgard stain-resistant treatment chemical in 2001 because of toxicity concerns associated with the chemicals it was using. Despite statements from 3M that its products “had to be environmentally sustainable,” caution is advised when considering chemical treatment to furnishings.
Eliminate the potential risks associated with chemical exposure by choosing cookware such as stainless steel, cast iron, and porcelain-enameled cast iron, and furniture with removable slipcovers that can easily be laundered.
Gail Vittori is co-director of the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, a nonprofit sustainable planning and design firm based in Austin, Texas. The Center’s innovative and anticipatory design, policy, and education initiatives are currently focused on open building systems, green health care initiatives, resource-balanced master planning, and lifecycle design.