PFAS – the pollutants that forced construction to stop – are used in the production of pans with a non-stick coating. Are there any health risks involved and if so: should we stop buying and using these pans?
Who doesn’t have a pan with a non-stick coating at home? If you have one with a Teflon coating, alarm bells may have already started ringing.
Residents of the Teflon factory Chemours (formerly DuPont) in Dordrecht have been exposed to the PFAS type PFOA for years. This substance turned out to be harmful and was banned, after which a switch was made to GenX, another PFAS species, which is classified as equally harmful.
“With normal use, the use of pans with a layer of Teflon does not pose a risk to health,” the Ministry of Health, Welfare & Sport (VWS) said in a response. “When heated above 250 degrees, the Teflon can disintegrate, causing harmful gases. Old pans can cause the layer to peel.”
Particles of PTFE that come off the Teflon layer can end up in the food. “This is undesirable, but not harmful. PTFE is a substance that cannot be absorbed or digested by the body and it leaves the body unchanged.”
‘Everyone has PFAS in their blood ‘
Professor of Environmental Chemistry and Toxicology Jacob de Boer researches chemicals and has focused on PFAS, including PTFE and GenX, in recent years. “PFAS can get into your blood, stay there for years and lead to kidney cancer, testicular cancer, elevated cholesterol and liver problems,” he says.
“This does not happen through normal use of Teflon pans, but because PFAS is used in production and then has to be discharged again, it disappears into our environment. Everyone in Europe has PFAS in their blood, thanks to DuPont.”
You could come into contact with PFAS through the drinking water, food packaging and when you come into direct contact with the substance, such as through the air around Chemours or during excavation work in contaminated soil, De Boer explains.
“A final decision must be taken in 2023 on the ban on PFAS.”
Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management
For a number of specific situations, RIVM has looked at the risks for humans when exposed to PFOA, PFOS and GenX. “The risks are limited, but cannot always be ruled out. This has been the case with residents of Chemours, for example.”
A group of international scientists came on June 30 with a call for a ban on all PFAS, just like the Dutch government at the end of last year. “It is expected that a proposal for a ban can be submitted to the European Union by mid-2022”, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management (IenW) said in a response. A final decision must be taken in 2023.
GenX: where is it now?
Chemours first discharged 6,400 kilos of GenX into the water, but this has now been reduced to 5 kilos per year. De Boer: “But how is it being eliminated now? We don’t know.” The IenW announces that it will be transported to an establishment in Belgium that is suitable for the incineration of hazardous waste.
“PFAS never disappears. The substances are spread all over the Northern Hemisphere. ”
Jacob de Boer, professor of environmental chemistry and toxicology
“PFAS never disappears”, says De Boer. “The substances are spread all over the northern hemisphere and also come over from China and America. A European ban is therefore not enough.”
The Netherlands is working with four countries on the ban, says the IenW. “There will be restrictions on the import of products with PFAS. There is also global cooperation through the Stockholm Convention of the United Nations.”
Until the European ban, alternatives to PFAS in consumer articles were already on the market. De Boer: “By going for that, you do not contribute to the harmful production chain. As far as pans are concerned, you can opt for a steel pan or a pan with a ceramic layer.”