Breathing fiber optics can kill you
Are Teflon coatings toxic?
Teflon pans are found in many households, probably yours too. The advantages of these pans are obvious: They are usually cheap and much easier to clean than uncoated pans.
Table of Contents
Teflon and PTFE - the difference
PTFE is colloquially referred to as Teflon. But Teflon is actually the brand name for PTFE from DuPont and Chemours. We use the two terms synonymously on our website.
But Teflon pans also have a negative side: under certain circumstances they can be harmful to humans.
We at Pfannenhelden.de get to the bottom of the matter and clarify, what the danger of Teflon pans is all about.
To do this, let's take a look at how we can come into contact with Teflon at all:
Contact with Teflon
Teflon or PTFE (an explanation of PTFE can be found in the article Teflon pans) can get into our organism in two ways: Swallow and breathe in.
Ingestion of Teflon
Teflon pans wear out over time, that's a fact. If the coating is damaged, Teflon particles can get into the food and thus also into our bodies.
Inhalation of PTFE vapors
If Teflon pans are heated too high, the PTFE can outgas. If there is poor or little ventilation, humans absorb these vapors through the airways. When PTFE outgases various toxic substances. These include, for example, gaseous hydrofluoric acid or carbonyl fluoride.1
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Ingestion of Teflon
PTFE / Teflon is chemically "inert“, That means it does not react with other substances at normal temperatures. The human body temperature is between approx. 36 and 37 ° C. It is not high enough for swallowed Teflon to cause damage to the body. Instead, according to the current state of knowledge, the swallowed particles are simply excreted again.2
That means: Even scratched Teflon pans do not pose a health risk. Even if Teflon crumbs look unsavory in food, they do not pose any danger. So you don't have to dispose of your scratched pan, you can keep using it.
Inhalation of Teflon vapors
The situation is different with Teflon fumes. Since the use of Teflon there have been several studies that deal with the toxicity of the escaping vapors due to overheating. Inhaling these vapors can lead to so-called Teflon fever, the symptoms are flu-like. Symptoms such as fever, chills, dry throat, and cough are severe but short-lived.34
The studies cited only refer to the effect of Teflon vapor inhaled once. There are no studies of the long-term effects of repeated inhalation of PTFE vapors.
However, Teflon fumes are considerably more dangerous for birds: there are various reports of bird keepers whose animals died after coated pans were left on the stove.56
For more information and advice on how to use Teflon pans in a household with birds, see the article: Teflon Pans and Birds
At what temperatures do Teflon pans start to generate gases?
There are different statements about this.
The Environmental Working Group, an environmental group that is very critical of Teflon, cites a study in which birds died at 202 ° Celsius. 7 However, the cited study refers to Teflon that was attached to lightbulbs and gives no indication of how the PTFE was attached to the lamps. 8
A study by the scientists Lee and Seidel on rats with heated Teflon resulted in the death of two out of three rats. However, heated PTFE particles that had previously been produced by pyrolysis were used for the experiment. The temperature of the re-heated Teflon particles was 240 ° Celsius and the rats were exposed to the vapors for 30 minutes. 9
DuPont, the manufacturer of Teflon, cites 260 ° Celsius as the safe temperature up to which the Teflon-coated pan can be heated without any problems.10 Other studies also cite 260 ° Celsius as the point in time at which the Teflon begins to decompose.11
Since studies on the effects of Teflon fumes on humans are of course not allowed to be carried out, it is not exactly clear at what temperature Teflon can be dangerous for humans.
What are the temperatures when frying in pans?
Temperatures at which one speaks of roasting, move between 180 and 230 ° Celsius. 12
The diagram below shows the different temperatures that arise when frying.
As already described, the decomposition processes of PTFE start at 260 ° Celsius. The smoke point of most vegetable edible oils is 180 ° and 230 ° Celsius below that13, but already dangerously close to the temperature that DuPont specifies as the maximum temperature for Teflon and even above the temperature from the above-mentioned study on birds of 202 ° Celsius.
If it gets even hotter in the pan, a grease fire can occur. As soon as the oil reaches its ignition temperature, it reacts with the oxygen in the air and ignites. According to one source, olive oil has an ignition temperature of 343 ° Celsius14, according to a study by the University of Maryland, the ignition temperature of most cooking oils is above 400 ° Celsius15.
What about PFOA?
DuPont has long used PFOA to manufacture Teflon. PFOA is a substance that acts as an emulsifier and ensures that the Teflon binds to the pan. The substance is believed to be carcinogenic 16, but can no longer or hardly be found in the finished Teflon pan.17 This is because PFOA evaporates at 189 ° Celsius, but temperatures of more than 300 ° Celsius prevail in the manufacture of PTFE-coated pans.18
One study investigated the effects of PFOA-contaminated groundwater, which was circulated by DuPont, on humans. The study found that those who had more PFOA in their blood were more likely to develop cancer than those without elevated PFOA levels. 19
DuPont and other large chemical companies (including BASF) have meanwhile reduced their PFOA emissions to almost zero.20
Teflon and the environment
PTFE pans lose their adhesive properties over time and sooner or later have to be replaced. (More about the reasons for this in our article on Teflon pans).
When disposing of it (the pans are burned), toxic substances are produced, similar to when the pan is overheated.21 However, a recycling plant for Teflon is now being tested in Germany. 22
If you really care about the environment, don't use Teflon pans. The pans have to be disposed of much more frequently and can only be recycled to a limited extent at the moment.
Nonetheless, making pans is likely to pollute the environment in one way or another. However, uncoated pans such as iron, copper or stainless steel pans will last a lifetime if properly cared for. If you want to switch from Teflon pans, we recommend iron pans. Here we show you which ones we like: Our recommendations for iron pans
If we just look at the effects on our health, according to current knowledge, PTFE-coated pans are unproblematic up to 260 ° Celsius. It is of course difficult to determine the temperature of a pan without a thermometer.
We therefore recommend using Teflon pans only on low to medium heat. They are therefore well suited, for example, for warming up food or for preparing egg dishes.
You can find out more about the handling and care of PTFE pans in our article on Teflon pans. The instructions for use also help to extend the life of the Teflon coating.
- Harris, D., Lond M.B. Polymer-fume fever. The Lancet. 1951; 258(6692): 1008–1011.
- Shimizu T., Hamada O., Sasaki A., Ikeda M. Polymer fume fever. BMJ Case Reports. 2012. doi: 10.1136 / bcr-2012-007790
- Boucher, M., Ehmler, TJ and Bermudez, AJ. 2000. Polytetrafluoroethylene gas intoxication in broiler chickens. Avian Dis 44 (2): 449-53.
- Pulmonary Response to Perfluoropolymer Fume and Particles Generated under Various Exposure Conditions
- Quantitation of gas-phase perfluoroalkyl surfactants and fluorotelomer alcohols released from nonstick cookware and microwave popcorn bags.
- U.S. Fire Administration (2015): https://web.archive.org/web/20170201055251/https://www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/coffee-break/cb_fp_2015_20.pdf
- S. Krist, Lexicon of Vegetable Fats and Oils, SpringerLink: Books, Springer Vienna, 2012, p. 587
- K. Buda-Ortins, Auto-Ignition of Cooking Oils, University of Maryland, Department of Fire Protection Engineering, 2010, p. 2
- TEFLON AND HUMAN HEALTH: DO THE CHARGES STICK? Assessing the Safety of the Chemical PFOA, https://www.acsh.org/publications/pubID.1076/pub_detail.asp
- Determination of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) extractable from the surface of commercial cookware under simulated cooking conditions by LC / MS / MS, http://www.lumenflon.com/upload/media/Nota03b.pdf
- PFOA and Cancer in a Highly Exposed Community: New Findings from the C8 Science Panel
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