Friday, August 4, 2017

Bogus Teflon Warnings

Back on July 10 as I was reviewing my favorite posts, I recommended questioning and researching to find evidence of scientific findings.  This is strong behavior when making health-related decisions.  The opposite, and what seems to have become prevalent with the ability for social media to spread misinformation far and wide and instantaneously, is the habit of basing health-related decisions and beliefs on rumor, gossip and hearsay.

This came up again recently as a neighbor remarked that she was replacing her old cookware because the Teflon was chipped or cracked.  She warned us that eating food cooked in those pots causes cancer.

Poor behavior on my part would have been to accept this information without question.  I had a vague feeling I had heard it somewhere before.  Also, Teflon, a brand name for polytetrafluoroethylene, is a manmade chemical – warnings about the dangers of which fly around the Internet almost every day.  Even the word chemical alone is a red flag to many.  As a result, this assertion may seem reasonable to the average person.

Despite the apparent validity of this warning, positive behavior on my part would be to do a little research before throwing away old, possibly perfectly good cookware based on the word of a neighbor (or a celebrity or a newscaster or even a scientist or doctor with expertise in a different field).  It didn’t take much time to find what I needed.

According to a website called homeguides, “The Food and Drug Administration advises that the chips [in Teflon cookware] pose no health hazard when they pass through the body.”  Apparently, most of the fear is derived from another manmade chemical, PFOA, which is used in the process of making Teflon.  “However, the Environment Protection Agency reports that Teflon doesn’t actually contain PFOA so there is no health hazard from using it.”

It’s smart to check more than one source, and with the Internet at one’s fingertips it’s easy to do.  The American Cancer Society lists Teflon and PFOA as a subject for discussion.  They state clearly, “Teflon itself is not suspected of causing cancer.”

Other than the possible risk of flu-like symptoms from breathing in fumes from an overheated Teflon-coated pan, there are no known risks to humans from using Teflon-coated cookware. While PFOA is used in making Teflon, it is not present (or is present in extremely small amounts) in Teflon-coated products.”

Furthermore on the subject of PFOA itself, they look to the experts citing the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization.  “One of its goals is to identify causes of cancer. IARC has classified PFOA as ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans’ (Group 2B), based on limited evidence in humans.”  But the EPA’s position is equally vague:  There is “suggestive evidence of carcinogenicity, but not sufficient to assess human carcinogenic potential.”

What we have then is an urban-myth cancer scare over something that is perfectly safe because it is only peripherally associated with something that may (or may not) be a problem.  To find this out takes only about 15 minutes.  Why wouldn’t everyone do it and promote the spread of valid information?

It’s much easier to listen to neighbors, celebrities and the media (social and otherwise) and get faulty information, worry needlessly about fantasy dangers and put hopes into fantasy cures.  In this case, we only throw out perfectly good pots.  But the typical reaction in America on so many similar subjects is to jump to conclusions based on endorsements and opinion rather than evidence.  We then become prey to advertisers using these false notions to sell more of what we don’t need with features that add no value.

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