Teflon Pan Safety: Pans to Avoid

There’s a dizzying array of nonstick pans out there. Ceramic pans, made with silica (i.e., sand) and “reinforcing chemicals,” claim to be PTFE, PFOA, and sometimes PFOS free. Ditto silicon pans. Some anodized aluminum pans are advertised as “Teflon-free.” And Teflon (a.k.a PTFE) pans boast being PFOA-free. Then there’s GenX, made with a perfluorinated chemical called PFBS that Chemours once insisted would be a non-toxic upgrade from PFOA, but which the company is now having to remediate from the water and land around its plant in Fayetteville, NC

Basically, says Mulvihill, the lingo of nonstick pans is purposefully a “world of confusion. But just because a pan says ‘No PFOA’ or ‘No PFAS’ doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain perfluorinated substances.” 

On the one hand, PFOA has been phased out in the US so that claim is a red herring. And remember, PFOA is one of only 4,700 chemicals in the PFAS class.

On the other hand, so-called “PFAS-free” ceramic pans —Thermalon and Calphalon, for example — contain other perfluorinated substances, called perfluorosilicones. “These are a beast unto themselves,” says Mulvihill. They’re structurally similar to PFAS and “will be persistent in the environment and likely in our bodies,” although it’s hard for consumers to find much information about them. Are they safer than PFAS? Maybe, he says. But no one seems to be doing — or sharing — research that would confirm or disconfirm that.

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