Non-Stick Pans Linked to Thyroid Disease: Whom Can I Sue and Will the Charges Stick?

The last of my formerly complete set of Circulon pans, a wedding present 11 years ago, was solemnly  sent off to the Cooking Pan Graveyard recently. As I researched the best replacement for the much-used, much loved matrimonial gift, I found that Amazon offered a fabulous deal on a new range of Circulon pans, which came with a free casserole dish worth $100. It would have been foolish to have let it slip. The purchase took place without a hitch – shopping online, time and money saved, prompt doorstep delivery, feet and nails intact.

The new pans, heatable to 400F (as high as I generally need the oven to go), are practically self-clean. Before I’ve picked up the sponge and doused it with washing-up liquid, the caked-up food has fallen off and the pan is, well, like new again. I hypnotically go through the motions still, of washing, as a matter of habit, as the pans themselves are bright and brimming with confidence.

So, I should be really, really happy.

But no, a dark cloud, reeking of burnt plastic, looms on the horizon. Just as a recent diagnosis of an underactive thyroid began to sink in, this study showed up, suggesting a possible link between nonstick pan use and thyroid disease. (Thyroid hormone helps maintain and regulate one’s heart rate, body temperature and supports metabolism, reproduction, digestion and mental health.)

As one who insists on cooking 98% of her family’s meals in order to control what they’re ingesting, I am not amused. I’m already kicking myself for buying good-enough pans for $300 after discounts (original price was $783), instead of remortgaging the house and buying the $2,000 ones.

But then I’m not fancy schmancy Gordon Ramsay. I was perfectly content with my pans, my food looked and tasted great, the customers (ie family) keep coming back, I could go easy on the olive oil, and spend less time slaving over the sink. And, despite the absence off flashy copper-bottomed pans, I was easily better company in the kitchen than Mr Hell’s Kitchen.

The study, by the Environmental Health Perspectives, a monthly journal of research and news on environmental and health matters, found that people with higher levels of the chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), in their blood, had higher rates of thyroid disease.

While the link isn’t established yet as as causal one, it is a solid statistical link which worries me as a prolific cook who uses nonstick pans. After all, the key source of human exposure to PFOA is believed to be through diet, and secondarily, through consumer good such as fabrics and carpets.

This is what DuPont, who makes Teflon non-stick coating, say: (Do note Teflon isn’t PFOA but PFOA is used to make Teflon)

Can I get exposed to PFOA from cookware?
Using testing methods developed and approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), DuPont has concluded that consumers cannot be exposed to PFOA through cookware coated with Teflon® non-stick finishes.

Is PFOA in cookware?
DuPont and several U.S. and international agencies have not detected PFOA in cookware coated with Teflon® using tests and methods that are consistent with the testing methodology of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA).

PFOA is found in non-stick pans, and is used to stain- and waterproof fabric. The chemical doesn’t, in general, break down unless heated above 500F – something that could happen if you were boiling spaghetti, left the kitchen and got distracted, and the pan subsequently heated up and boiled dry. Not that you’d eat the stuff, but there’d be no escaping the PFOA fumes and particles that would be partying in your kitchen’s atmosphere.

Needless to say, I’m now researching two things. How to return these flipping pans (mostly still brand new) and whether Mr Ramsay will sell me his used copper-bottomed, non-nonstick ones that he can’t be ar#ed to wash.

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January 27, 2010. Tags: . Health, Kitchen Gagdets, Kitchen Snippets, Kitchen Stuff, Musings, Stories.

14 Comments

  1. dionneford replied:

    When I needed to part with my circulon non stick pans, also a wedding gift, I consulted a friend who is also a nutritionist and she alerted me to the potential dangers of non-stick pans. (Luckily, before I’d already purchased new ones). I ended up buying calphalon pans, not non-stick. They didn’t entirely break the bank (I think they were about 600 dollars). I have to scrub them to get them clean, but I’m used to it by now. when I can remember the Calphalon line name, I’ll relay it to you.

    • divaindoors replied:

      Thank you Dionne. The new line we bought is supposed to be absolutely fine as long as I’m not cooking up too much of a storm (ie beyond 500F). Thankfully I can get most things done at 400F tops (in fact a herby chicken is roasting quite happily right now at that temp). Would be nice if someone other than the cooking-pan makers could make a decisive statement about nonstick safety!

  2. Heather Sherman replied:

    Hi Bernadette,

    Wanted to check out your site, very nice!!! By the way you look gorgeous!! I enjoyed the thyroid article and your “About Me” story.

    Have a great weekend! You make me want to cook!!

    • divaindoors replied:

      Thanks for dropping by Heather and for the lovely compliments! Enjoy your weekend too
      (and what? you don’t cook?!) x

  3. Victor Sasson replied:

    I’m glad you tackled this issue. I, too, recently bought a new set of pots and pans, and chose Calphalon triple-ply stainless steel to replace some non-stick pots we had been using for about five years, but had lost confidence in. I kept two non-stick Calphalon pans with covers (one 6 quarts).

    • divaindoors replied:

      Thanks Victor. Please let me know how it’s getting on with the triple-ply stainless steel ones, including the final step of washing up! And the name of the line you bought too please 🙂

  4. Jennifer Bell replied:

    We recently replaced our one non-stick pan with an All-Clad LTD. So far, so good. We’ve also got a couple of seasoned cast iron pieces. I do scrub them, but only with salt. No soap, no water. That way they don’t get rusty. Surprisingly, that works very well.

    Bernadette, I finally subscribed to your site. I’m looking forward to it.
    Your neighbor, Jen

    • divaindoors replied:

      Jen, thank you for stopping by! I can’t wait to get a few of those cast iron pieces. Am intrigued by the salt-washing method, which I believe my gran used to employ with her pancake griddle (cast iron)… thanks for mentioning it. Would that be fine or coarse salt or ground salt? See you soon 🙂

  5. Victor Sasson replied:

    Sorry for the delay in replaying to your question. The Calphalon stainless interiors don’t clean up that well — it’s not food but some sort of shadowing — but I am going to live with it because they perform real well. I bought the set from Crate & Barrel’s Web site for about $400. Besides triple-play stainless, I can’t come up with the actual line. Like mattresses, wine and tires, cookware is a confusing purchase with prices all over the place and subtle differences in names. Hope this helps a little.

  6. rahmad fl replied:

    good info .. I am very interested with your article …

  7. Mrs Josiah-Jen replied:

    I use Salad Master. You can give it a try. 🙂 happy cooking.

    Jen

  8. Jan replied:

    Thanks very much for the info, but I’ve not heard of the connection of non stick pans and thyroid conditions before. I have an underactive thyroid but I don’t usually cook, my husband does, so that theory may be blown out of the water ! Liked the blog bytheway.

    • divaindoors replied:

      Thanks for dropping by Jan! I added a link to the study (it’s in the story) that finds a statistical connection between certain chemicals associated with non-stick pans and people with thyroid disease. If you click on the link, you can read the whole study 😉

      • divaindoors replied:

        Oh, and that study was cited by Reuters, a highly respectable international news organization (for whom I once worked)! They don’t refer to shabby stuff 🙂

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