Dangers of Nonstick Cookware

Health Hazards Surrounding Nonstick Pans and Finding Safe Cookware

Many of us enjoy the convenience and practicality of pots and pans that are easy to clean. However, nonstick cookware has been a source of controversy for the last several years because of their potential health risks but rest assured there are eco-friendly, safe cookware alternatives!  


Dangers of nonstick cookware

Silver pan on granite top

For the last several years scientists have identified possible dangers of nonstick cookware because it contains the chemical known as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) or C8. This is a synthetic chemical that is most famous for its association with Teflon, the nonstick cookware. 

And while products like Teflon pots and pans are not made directly with PFOA, they can contain trace amounts of it, along with other PFCs (of which PFOA is one) that can be emitted into the air and water when the nonstick coating is heated to boiling. Where else can you find PFAO?

  • Food packaging designed to repel grease, water, and soil
  • Sprays used to treat clothing, leather, and other textiles
  • Carpeting and furniture treatments to prevent stains (like Stainmaster, SilverStone, and old formula (pre-2001) Scotchgard, though little is known about the new formulation)
  • Floor wax and other cleaning products
  • Cosmetics

It should be noted that many of these are made with PFCs which break down into PFOA, which is where the potential danger arises. PFOA is also released through industrial processes used by chemical companies like DuPont and 3M, contaminating soil and water near these manufacturing facilities.

Currently, the US Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t recommend consumers take any precautions to protect themselves against PFOAs,[1] though there is a strong caution against heating any nonstick cookware to high temperatures as this can release PFOAs. The exact danger point for this kind of cookware is not really known, but DuPont does recognize that heating Teflon higher than 464 degrees Fahrenheit is harmful to birds (the fumes can kill them).[2]

Not only that, but groups like the Environmental Working Group are lobbying to have PFOAs limited significantly because of concerns of the potential for PFOAs to contribute to health problems like immunotoxicity, hormone disruption, metabolic disturbances, and higher risks of cancer.[3] As a result, many are now erring on the side of caution by looking for non-nonstick alternatives to the ever-so-convenient cookware we’ve grown to love.


Finding eco-friendly cookware

Caution sounds like a good idea, so here are some options for safe cookware alternatives that you may want to give serious consideration to:

  • Stainless steel cookware
  • Cast iron cookware
  • Ceramic-coated cookware
  • Copper cookware

Another little bit of food for thought: the nonstick coating and other materials used to make this type of cookware renders the piece more than likely unrecyclable. So after the coating has all but completely peeled away and the handle has been melted more than a few times, your only recourse is to throw it in the trash. Fortunately, stainless steel and some of these other greener cookware options are more eco-friendly for their end of life options.

Make your cooking even greener with cooking techniques that save energy!



1  Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Fluorinated Telomers. (n.d.). Retrieved January 29, 2011, from US Environmental Protection Agency: http://www.epa.gov/oppt/pfoa/

2  Are Nonstick Ceramic Pans Better?(2011, January 18). Retrieved January 29, 2011, from Dr. Weil: http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/QAA400862/Are-Nonstick-Ceramic-Pans-Better.html

3  Teflon chemical PFOA – Comments on Draft Screening Assessment. (2010, December 24). Retrieved January 29, 2011, from Environmental Working Group: http://www.ewg.org/comm/teflon-chemical-pfoa-comments-draft-screening-assessment

Stay Connected.
You've been added to our mailing list.
Thank you for signing up!
Like ecolife on Facebook & Google, and join us in the Green movement!