HOW IT STARTED
This story isn’t about GreenPan (although GreenPan plays a central role), it’s about a big lie that’s been told by the biggest companies in the world for decades. Once you read what I discovered, you won’t be able to erase it from your mind and you’ll rush to throw away every pot and pan in your kitchen. This isn’t a conspiracy theory, it’s science.
My research started innocently. I needed a new non-stick frying pan. A trusted friend suggested GreenPan, so off I went to my computer and straight to Amazon. I must admit I didn’t do much research beyond choosing the size I wanted, reading the brief product description and looking at the number of customer reviews because I thought, it’s just a pan, just a needed tool and nothing more. My new pan arrived and I instantly liked how it looked, felt and performed—that was three years ago—but love struck in the science.
I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this part of the story. I can safely call myself a health nut in training. Long ago, I stopped eating food with ingredients I couldn’t pronounce and started eating as much organic as possible; I started taking Omega 3-6-9 fatty acids along with B complex, vitamin D and pro-biotics; I stopped cooking with olive oil and switched to coconut oil; I started cardio and weights 5-6 times per week; and I changed my weekly Ocado shop to include more salmon, eggs, oats, berries and as many leafy greens as possible. I have vices—mostly in the form of Diet Coke, sugar and a glass (or three) of Malbec a few times per week.
The embarrassing part of my story is that although I have consciously taken care of my body and mind for 20+ years, it’s only recently that I discovered the most obvious, insidious monster hiding in my cabinets: my cookware.
A CRASH COURSE IN TOXIC CHEMICALS
Once I started researching what is in my Teflon non-stick cookware, I became obsessed and couldn’t erase it from my brain. Images of dead birds, toxic fumes and environmental damage circle my thoughts, demanding attention, leading me to write this blog. I feel a bit like Erin Brockovich trying to reveal the truth.
This story is confusing, laced with polysyllabic words and acronyms—almost intentionally to discourage science novices like me from probing deeper—companies within companies, lawsuits, and decades of research. As I read 100s of articles and reports, I struggled keeping the players straight in my head; as I wrote, I struggled organising my thoughts. I want to spare you that same anguish and add some clarity with the brief overview below:
PFAS (per- and poly-perfluoroalkyl substances) are a family of chemicals, including PFOA (also known as C-8), PFOS and GenX (also known as C-6). These chemicals are used in the production of non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, water-proof clothing, Gor-Tex, Scotchguard, cleaning supplies, stain-resistant furniture, stain-resistant carpets, and much more.
PFC (perflourinated chemicals) are a group of manufactured compounds used to make products waterproof, stain-resistant and non-stick. If that sounds a bit like PFAS, that’s because it is. They are the same. Just another acronym to describe these toxic chemicals.
Teflon is the brand name for the non-stick coating used in cookware (also known as PTFE), which is owned by Chemours, which is a spin-off of DuPont. PFOA (C-8) is used during the production of Teflon.
Scotchguard is a product produced by 3M to protect clothing, fabrics, upholstery and carpets from stains. In 2003, 3M replaced toxic PFOS with a new compound called PFBS (perfluorobutanesulfonic acid).
Gore-Tex is a waterproof fabric that uses PTFE. It’s the same as Teflon. In 2013, Gore eliminated the use of PFOA.
DuPont is an American conglomerate worth more than $25 billion, specialising in electronics, manufacturing, agriculture and more.
3M is another American conglomerate worth more than $32 billion, specialising in consumer goods and health.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is an US independent public body responsible for protecting human and environmental health. The World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and United Nations, among others, also address and try to resolve the same health and environmental issues.
THE TRUTH BEHIND PFAS
Without digging too deep into chemistry and the thousands of scientific studies, you should know that PFAS is a known carcinogen. Fact. Remember, that’s the stuff used to make non-stick cookware. Just read any of the sources I’ve included below. It has been proven to cause liver toxicity, weakened immune systems, hormonal changes, thyroid disease, testicular cancer and pregnancy-induced hypertension (just to name a few). Recently, PFAS has been linked to obesity. None of this is new information. Companies have known for decades.
In the early 1960’s, DuPont and 3M began conducting secret medical studies on PFOA (later known as C-8 and part of the PFAS family). They quickly concluded that it did not break down in the environment and that PFOA bound to plasma proteins in the blood, circulating through every organ in the body. They suspected it could cause health problems.
In the 1970’s, DuPont discovered high concentrations of PFOA in factory workers at their West Virginia plant, where Teflon and other products were manufactured. By 1976, 3M publicly confirmed that PFOA was “completely resistant to biodegradation”. 3M also had evidence of toxic effects on fish and negative effects on the immune system. You’d think this would be the start of environmentalists picketing DuPont and 3M to stop using these harmful chemical, but not much more than whispers were heard for another 20+ years.
In 1981, 3M concluded that PFOA caused birth defects in rats. 3M shared this information with DuPont. DuPont responded by testing children of pregnant employees at their West Virginia plant, discovering that two out of the seven children tested had eye defects. By 1989, DuPont employees at the same plant found an elevated number of leukaemia deaths, then kidney cancer, then prostate cancer, then…but DuPont chose to ignore the evidence, not alert the EPA and not change.
In 1999, the EPA ordered eight major companies, including DuPont and 3M, to examine the effects of PSAFs on humans after receiving data on the global distribution and toxicity of PFOA and PFOS.
Bowing to EPA pressure or finally taking responsibility and understanding that PSAFs are dangerous (I don’t care the motive), 3M stopped using PFOS and PFOA in 2000. It’s important to note that this little chemical was a key ingredient in Scotchguard. By 2003, 3M launched a new formulation of Scotchguard that included PFBS in place of PFOS (which doesn’t sound much like a change at all, but it’s all down to the number of carbons).
DuPont, however, wasn’t so quick to change their ways. They buried all medical and environmental studies until 2000 when a lawyer from West Virginia got a court order demanding DuPont release all documents related to PFOA (there were more than 110,000 pages at the time). The West Virginia legal issue proved to be just a small hiccough for DuPont as they focused their attention on seizing opportunity.
In 2002, after 3M stopped using PFOA and PFOS, DuPont decided to build a plant in North Carolina to manufacture these chemicals. Already under litigation and renewed focus by the EPA, DuPont seemed determined to stay until the end, contaminating water, killing wildlife and causing cancer.
In 2003, a report issued by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) summarised the EPA’s findings that “PFOA (C-8) is persistent in the environment. It does not hydrolyse, photolyse or biodegrade under environmental conditions”. The report also states:
“Even if PFOA were banned today, the global mass of PFOA would continue to rise, and concentrations of PFOA in human blood could continue to build. Long after PFOA is banned, other PFC chemicals from 50 years of consumer products will continue to break down into their terminal PFOA end product, in the environment and in the human body.”
In 2005, DuPont once again proved its reluctance to change (and even its complicity in ignoring the dangers of these chemicals for decades) when it reached a settlement agreement with the EPA for $16.5 million ($10.25 million of which was for fines). The charge was withholding decades of information about health hazards associated with PFOA and PFOS. Specifically:
"DuPont had long known that PFOA caused cancer, had poisoned drinking water in the mid-Ohio River Valley and polluted the blood of people and animals worldwide. But it never told its workers, local officials and residents, state regulators, or the EPA."
At the time, that fine was the largest the EPA had ever assessed, but it was too small to act as a deterrent for this multi-billion-dollar company, just a minor annoyance on DuPont’s P&L.
If you’re wondering how any of this relates to GreenPan, just stick with me a little longer and I will explain.
In 2006, following 3M’s lead, six companies agreed to phase out PFOA and PFOS by 2015 under the guidance of the EPA, but environmental damage was already done, and will persist indefinitely. Recently, soil and water samples as far as the Arctic caps show high levels of these compounds. Remember, these chemicals are proved carcinogens. The EPA estimates that “contamination in food may account for more than 90% of human exposure to PFOS and PFOA, most of which comes from fish.”
In 2009, PFOS (part of the PFAS family) was determined to be a persistent organic pollutant (POP) by the Stockholm Convention and ordered to be eliminated or restricted. POPs are “chemical substances that persist in the environment, bio-accumulate through the food web, and pose a risk of causing adverse effects to human health and the environment.” All chemicals in the PFAS family are nasty.
According to the Madrid Statement, published in 2015 and based on the consensus of more than 200 scientists world-wide, PFASs cause “neonatal toxicity and death, and tumors in multiple organ systems”. The statement further cautions consumers about the risks of PFASs, advises companies to stop using them and urges governments to “enact legislation to require only the essential uses of PFSASs and enforce labelling to indicate uses”. I’m not convinced there are any “essential uses” of these proven carcinogenic chemicals.
In 2017, after more than a decade, DuPont settled 3,550 personal injury claims for $671 million. The case? PFOA (C-8) leaked from DuPont’s manufacturing plant in West Virginia, causing various cancers and other serious health problems, while DuPont told no one, despite DuPont’s knowledge that these chemicals were harmful to humans. The lawsuit claimed that:
"DuPont intentionally concealed the dangers of PFAS from government entities and the public at large in order to protect its profits and avoid public responsibility for injuries."
Studies conducted during the lawsuit revealed that “the chemical had probable links to diseases, including kidney cancer, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis and high cholesterol”. [The case is fascinating and worth a thorough review. Read The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare]
In February 2018, the state of Ohio issued a lawsuit to DuPont for dumping PFOA (C-8) for more than 60 years despite DuPont knowing the chemicals are harmful to people. It seeks restitution and damages for Ohio in investigating and cleaning up contamination from the chemical.
Do you see a trend?
3M is just as guilty. In February 2018, 3M settled a lawsuit for $850 million. This one is over PFC (which includes PFOA) that got into Minnesota’s drinking water. I’m willing to give them a second chance (although very, very small) because they stopped using PFOA and PFOS in 2002.
But the EPA also isn’t innocent. It’s unclear precisely what the EPA knew about 3M, DuPont and PSAFs, and when they knew it because the 1990's and 2000's were turbulent years on many fronts. Regardless, the EPA sat on confirmed and suspected information about PFAS for 18 years, allowing more water contamination, more environmental damage and unknown health risks.
Many other cases have been heard and are being prepared over the same nasty chemicals, for which the scientific community is still only beginning to understand the long-term affects on humans, animals and the environment. From what I see, it’s frightening.
The dangers of PFAS (all forms, not just the ones already banned) are real, global companies like Dupont and 3M have known for decades and it’s time the world paid attention and demanded a complete and total ban.
Now we're getting to the next big shocker: PTFE. Remember that PFOA (C-8) is NOT the same as PTFE. Confusing yes, but PTFE is the chemical name for Teflon and PFOA is used in the production of Teflon. Both are bad for different reasons.
THE BIRDS AND PTFE
If you’re not appropriately concerned by now, then just think about the birds. For more than 30 years, bird lovers and veterinarians have known that Teflon kills birds. Even as early as 1975, a peer-reviewed article published by five doctors and researchers concluded that:
“Five cocatiels (Nymphicus hollandicus) died within 30 minutes following exposure to fumes from a frying pan coated with the "non-stick" plastic polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) that had accidentally overheated. Within an hour the owner developed symptoms of "polymer fume fever" but recovered in the next 24 hours. Clinical signs and post mortem lesions of the cockatiels are described and reference is made to the unusual susceptibility of parakeets to the pyrolysis products of frying pans coated with PTFE.”
There are thousands of well-documented cases of birds dying after exposure to the toxins released when cooking with Teflon non-stick pans—not in a laboratory, but in regular household kitchens, cooking regular family meals. The report Canaries in the Kitchen reveals that the lungs of these exposed birds “haemorrhage and fill with fluid, leading to suffocation.” These are the same toxins you ingest when cooking on Teflon.
Not convinced? Check the warning label on Teflon cookware:
According to a study by Environmental Working Group (EWG), it only takes two to five minutes of heating to reach temperatures high enough to release dangerous toxins. Even DuPont’s own scientists acknowledge that its non-stick cookware breaks into 15 types of toxic gases and particles when heated—and they have known this for more than 50 years.
What about Gore-Tex (the clothing equivalent of Teflon)? As of 2013, they stopped using PFOA (C-8), but that just addresses how Gore-Tex is produced, not what its made of. What about products already produced (of which I own several)? It’s the same material as Teflon, but for clothing. I couldn’t find conclusive information about dangers of wearing Gore-Tex, but I have to wonder given that PTFE is a proven carcinogen and is proven to harm the environment, and if you heat Teflon it is proven to kill birds, then shouldn’t I be concerned? What do I have to do to prove it? Sit in the sun wearing a Gore-Tex coat and see if the bird next to me dies?
THE NEXT GENERATION—JUST AS BAD, BUT WITH A SEXIER TRADEMARK
As of 1 January 2016, PFOA (C-8) can no longer be imported or used in manufacturing in the US—essentially making it a banned substance. A victory for environmentalists and health experts, but not a total solution. Already knowing the day would come when C-8 was banned, DuPont, 3M and other conglomerates looked for alternatives. DuPont took the reins.
A clever magic trick was performed. Part lack of imagination and part fear of losing a multi-billion-dollar industry, DuPont tweaked the formula for C-8, renamed it GenX (a bit sexier than what it’s really called: C-6) and marked it as safe. I’m not convinced. Aren’t these the same guys who knew the dangers of C-8 for decades but kept silent? Why should I trust them now?
It looks to me like C-6 is the same nasty chemical that causes the same harmful health and environmental problems as the older generation. If I need proof, I must only consider that their tweak was adding an extra oxygen atom to the middle of the chain. The purpose of this harmless oxygen atom? Scientists thought it would make the compound “less persistent and it would pass through the body more quickly” which really means C-6 has a shorter half-life than C-8. But isn’t C-8 the chemical 3M said in 1976 that “does not degrade”? So, what does a shorter half-life mean? It will degrade in 10,000 years instead of 20,000? Who cares, we’ll all be dead anyway. Where I am stuck is that if C-6’s older sister is a proven carcinogen (one that DuPont tried to hide), how can I believe it’s not a family thing and how can I trust anything DuPont says?
Manufacturers have a bit of a head start before ringing alarm bells (not that they would) because C-6 is relatively new. However, scientific data is already looking a bit suspicious and you should know now that this touted safe chemical (C-6) is already being found within a 400 mile radius of processing plants in the Netherlands, North Carolina and West Virginia. It’s already in our drinking water, spreading fast and affecting aquatic life.
In January 2018, a study published by researchers in Sweden reveals shocking findings about C-6 (GenX) and its so-called safety. They claim GenX is more toxic than C-8 (PFOA):
When differences in the rates of distribution and elimination of these chemicals in the body are accounted for, the study says, “some fluorinated alternatives have similar or higher toxic potency than their predecessors.” (Environ. Int., 2018, DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2018.01.011).
Even today, C-8 (PFOA), a proven toxin and carcinogen, is found in the bloodstream of 98% of Americans. Now we see C-6 in water supplies. What’s next? Do we have to wait a decade for more lawsuits to pile up, agencies given enough ammunition to ban C-6 or enough public outcry so DuPont stops?
In June 2017, Dr. Philippe Grandjean, from the Harvard School of Public Health, expressed concerns regarding the similarity between C-8 and C-6 on the environment:
“These compounds don’t break down…Once they are loose in the environment, they are loose and that’s it…This is parallel to what we knew about PFOA (C-8) in the 1990s, and my concern is that these new GenX compounds have the same properties, I would be concerned that there might be additional toxic effects.”
Dr. Grandjean makes even more troubling comparisons when addressing the effect of C-8 and C-6 on humans. GenX, he states, is easily absorbed.
“But the fact of the matter is yes [these compounds] do leave the bloodstream, but that is because they are accumulated in the body, the liver the kidneys the lungs, and so just because some of them appear to disappear from the blood rapidly, that may not indicate that they have disappeared from the body as a whole… If you drink contaminated water, these compounds will rapidly move into your bloodstream and be circulated so that they can reach all the organs of the body.”
When will we learn?
There are other safe non-stick pans, but performance often suffers or they’re cost-prohibitive. Why GreenPan? I first loved GreenPan because it worked, now I am loyal for life because it’s also safe. GreenPan is the only non-C-8, non-C-6, non-PTFE, non-lead, non-cadmium and non-stick ceramic cookware on the market.
Why am I intent on non-stick? I’m a busy mum and not a gourmet chef, so I prefer non-stick cookware because it’s easier and healthier. I prefer ceramic because it heats quickly and cooks evenly—no hot spots or burned spots.
GreenPan uses a ceramic coating called Thermolon™ for its non-stick cookware. It is a natural substance (meaning it’s inorganic, which makes it sound bad, but think of it like pure sand). It does not contain the nasty chemicals I’ve covered in this blog so it’s safe for my family and the environment. On the rare occasion I have overheated (or even forgotten about) my GreenPan cookware, I feel safe that the family bird hasn’t been poisoned (although I don’t have one) and relieved that my pan emerges unharmed. I use my first GreenPan almost daily and it looks as good and performs as well as the day I first got it. No pan in my kitchen has ever lasted this long, except a cast iron one that’s approaching 18 years, but it’s a beast to use so I never do.
I’ve learned that not all ceramic cookware is created equally. Learn to read labels. Some ceramic cookware manufacturers add chemicals and metals to make their ceramic cookware stronger and last longer. What these chemicals are is unclear, just murmurs on social media, and not enough to warrant reasonable uproar now, but I’ll be watching.
Although cost is not my main motivation—it’s after health and performance—GreenPan is affordable. A LeCreuset pan starts at £100, while GreenPan is closer to £50.
Trust also adds to my GreenPan love story. As I quickly learned while researching large manufacturers for this blog, trust is important. I trust GreenPan. The company started 10 years ago by two school friends who saw a problem in the market. They did what every great entrepreneur does and tried to fix it. The result is GreenPan.
What I also love is that these founders are intent on improving the quality and performance of their products—they never stop. It sounds like a no-brainer, but many companies stop research when they get to market. Not true for GreenPan.
Even if my conclusions are laced with emotion and I’ve skipped some critical chemistry, I’ve researched enough to know that I don’t trust any chemical related to PFAS. I don’t like the thought of substances that pollute the environment, I don’t like the thought that breathing in fumes from cooking on Teflon-coated pans could cause “flu-like symptoms”. I don’t like the thought that I should constantly measure the temperature of my pan or check that the canary in her cage is still alive to know I’m safe. I just want to cook for my family and keep everyone I love safe.
These chemicals hurt the environment. FACT.
These chemicals kill birds. FACT.
These chemicals are carcinogens. FACT.
Now you know. Now you can’t un-know. Do the research and spread the word.
Manufacturers claim that once the non-stick surface is sprayed on cookware during production, the PFOA is burned off and leaves no trace. Without touring the production facilities or getting a master’s degree in chemistry, that sounds like a possible explanation, but a bigger question remains. Even if the PFOA is completely gone, why use a known carcinogen? Even worse, remember the birds. If you cook with Teflon, toxic fumes that kill birds are still emitted. How can that be safe for humans?
I have made every attempt to cite sources and present a fair analysis of the facts. If sources are incorrect or I made a mistake interpreting the data, I cannot be held liable. However, I would appreciate a note so I can correct the information. Knowledge is power.
MADRID STATEMENT: http://greensciencepolicy.org/madrid-statement/
3M LAWSUIT: https://www.twincities.com/2018/02/20/minnesota-3m-reach-settlement-ending-5-billion-lawsuit/ and https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-20/3m-is-said-to-settle-minnesota-lawsuit-for-up-to-1-billion
CANARIES IN THE KITCHEN: https://www.ewg.org/research/canaries-kitchen#.W3_85ehKguU
Toxic chemicals in outdoor gear: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jan/25/toxic-chemicals-found-in-most-outdoor-gear
GENX: http://fortune.com/longform/teflon-pollution-north-carolina/ and http://www.fayobserver.com/news/20180129/netherlands-study-genx-found-in-vegetables-grown-near-dutch-plant and http://www.starnewsonline.com/news/20170612/dutch-health-officials-investigating-genx
Global contaminants: https://www.ewg.org/research/pfcs-global-contaminants/pfcs-last-forever#.W4LTguhKguU