You may have heard that non-stick pans might not be the best for you. The history of the non-stick coating is pretty chaotic. But the real question is, is it safe?
The invention of non-stick pans is a bit of a two-parter. First, in 1938, a man named Roy J Plunkett was trying to find a less toxic refrigerant. He decided to experiment with something called tetrafluoroethylene (TFE) gas. In doing his experiment he realized the gas turned into a powder substance known as polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). PTFE is made by mixing three different ingredients fluorspar, sulphuric acid, and chloroform. His experiment to produce a new refrigerant was considered a failure.
PTFE may have been considered a failure for refrigerators but not for other projects, specifically the Manhattan project. (when America, Uk, and Canada made nuclear weapons during WW2) It was used to coat valves and seals holding uranium hexafluoride. The PFTE was able to protect the valves from the highly reactive compound.
So refrigerators and nuclear weapons all have something in common with many of the pots and pans you find in the store. It was not until 1954 that a French guy named Marc Grigoire invented the non-stick pan. Then in 1961, the first Non-stick cookware was introduced in the U.S.
But this doesn't really answer the question. Non-stick cookware. Is it safe? Well... it's complicated. PFTE also known as Teflon was first manufactured with something called PFOAs. I do need to mention Teflon is no longer manufactured with PFOAs. Animal studies link PFOAs to tumors, neonatal death, and issues with the immune, liver, and endocrine systems. (source) I bet you are thinking well it is not in the pans anymore so why does this matter? It is a forever chemical in our drinking water now.
I bet you are thinking well they took it out so it should be safe right? Well... they replaced it with Genx chemicals. If they replaced it doesn't that mean they chose something safer? (haha) The EPA has published a genX chemical fact sheet. They cite this chemical to have adverse effects on the liver, kidneys, and immune system as well as birth defects and cancer. (source) Well, we can see that PFOAs were used in non-stick cookware and now it is a forever chemical in our water supply so the same thing happened with genX. The EPA says IDk. We haven't tested for it yet. In March 2021 the EPA released a proposal to test drinking water between January 2023 and December 2025. So I guess we will see if we are being poisoned again in three years.
So what ways do using non-stick pans possibly pose a health risk? Well heating the pan over 500 degrees can release chemicals into the air and cause something called the Teflon flu (source) or using metal and scratching the non-stick coating causes flakes to contaminate your food.
Now keep in mind most of the testing is done on animals, we will not know the full effect of these compounds (and many others) until years later when they are done using the entire population as their own personal human testing subjects.
The best thing for you to do for your family is to weigh the risk vs benefits. For my family, I believe it is best to limit our exposure. Since I know that the PFOAs are already in the water as well as a huge possibility of the genX chemicals. I am deciding to limit our exposure and purchase pots and pans made from cast iron or stainless steel.