"Look - it's a bird, it's a plane ... no, it's EcoGirl!"

Ask EcoGirl

A syndicated eco-advice column
Written by Patricia Dines

"Encouraging the eco-hero in everyone!"

"Making it easy to be green!"

This Month's Column:
Detoxing Cookware

PDF VERSION OF THIS COLUMN -- formatted with the EcoGirl logo and ready to print! (Click here to download a PDF reader.)

ASK ECOGIRL'S HOME PAGE -- for more information, including how she can appear in your publication.


Detoxing Your Cookware

By Patricia Dines
Published in the Sonoma County Gazette
March 2011
(c) Patricia Dines, 2011. All rights reserved.

Dear EcoGirl: In your article "Chemical Trespass & Body Burden," you reported that PFCs (from nonstick pans) are frequently being found in our bodies. How can we avoid these chemicals? Those nonstick pans are so useful! Thanks for your efforts; they're much appreciated. Signed, Cooking Up a Storm

Dear Cooking: Thanks for your sweet email. It's always wonderful to hear that folks find my information useful! Also thanks for your great question. Certainly, I can offer you some input, although this is an arena where consumer products and information haven't always caught up with our need to know.

Chemical Trespass

In the article you mention, I describe a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that found that nearly everyone tested had toxic mercury, perchlorate, bisphenol A (BPA), acrylamide, perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), and the flame retardant BDE-47 in their bodies. And they tested for just a fraction of the 239,000 chemicals in registries worldwide! (You can read my article at www.healthyworld.org/GRAPHICS/STEP/stepvol11no1.pdf.)

The CDC cautions that study participants had varying levels of these materials and lower amounts might not cause harm. However, common sense suggests that it's not a good idea to be exposed to, and carry in our bodies, multiple toxics known to cause cancer, derail children's development, and harm our immune, neurological, and reproductive systems. Even worse, we're being subjected to ongoing exposures without our consent, making us part of an enormous unmonitored experiment with our health.

The Concerns About PFCs

In terms of perfluorochemicals (or PFCs), they're not just in our pans, but also in carpets, clothes, food bags, and more, going under well-known brand names such as Teflon®, ScotchgardTM, Stainmaster®, and GoreTex®. They're also used in making everything from airplanes to computers to cosmetics.

Unfortunately, the usefulness of PFCs comes at a serious cost. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) says that PFCs are "highly-toxic, extraordinarily-persistent chemicals that pervasively contaminate human blood and wildlife the world over." Health impacts include increased cancer and stroke risk, elevated cholesterol, weakened immune systems, lower birth weights, and disrupted thyroid hormones.

The EPA has persuaded eight manufacturers to phase out one PFC, PFOA, by 2015. However, there are many other harmful PFCs, and companies are still calling them "safe." (For more about PFCs, see www.ewg.org/EWG-Guide-to-PFCs and www.ewg.org/featured/228.)

So What About Nonstick Pans?

There's varying information about the specific health risks of nonstick pans, but I see enough data to warrant concern, such as the fact that cooking fumes from pans can kill nearby pet birds. Therefore, this is my suggested approach:

1) Avoid using nonstick pans as much as possible. Any materials coming off the pan will go straight into your body.

You can cook most foods with stainless steel, glass, enamel, and ceramic pans. I personally invested in a couple of high-quality surgical stainless steel pots, because I find that they make my food taste especially delicious, plus they easily steam veggies, which helps me eat healthy. I first heard about these through a persuasive Saladmaster demonstration, although I bought Kitchen Craft products because they had better pricing on individual pieces.

2) If you use nonstick pans, choose quality not cheap products. I've fried my eggs for years in an anodized aluminum nonstick skillet, which I like. I chose this pan because the bonding process is said to create a tough nonreactive scratch-resistant coating. [Note: Aluminum is on the inside of this type of pan not the cooking surface.] I've looked at the new "green" nonsticks, but haven't found one yet that offers "no PFCs" and gets good reviews for its nonstick ability. (Let me know if you find one!)

3) Be sure everyone cooking with your nonstick pans cares for them properly. This usually includes avoiding high heat, metal tools, and abrasives. Read the instructions and possibly post them! If you have a degraded pan, toss it.

4) Identify and reduce your exposure to PFCs in other products. Get good suggestions at www.ewg.org/news/nine-ways-avoid-household-toxins.

5) Take community-level action. Because PFC exposure is too extensive and complex to solve at just the consumer level, it's vital that we also insist on stronger government action to protect us. A good first step is to demand real strengthening of TSCA at www.saferchemicals.org/safe-chemicals-act.

• • •

Ask EcoGirl is written by Patricia Dines, Author of The Organic Guides, and Editor and Lead Writer for The Next STEP newsletter. Email your questions about going green to <EcoGirl [at] AskEcoGirl.info> for possible inclusion in future columns. View past columns at <www.AskEcoGirl.info>.

You can also become a Facebook fan of "Ask EcoGirl", to show your support and stay in touch! Join at www.facebook.com/AskEcoGirl.

"EcoGirl: Encouraging the eco-hero in everyone."

© Copyright Patricia Dines, 2011. All rights reserved.


More Ideas for Detoxing Cookware

In my previous article, "Detoxing Cookware," I answered a reader's question about nonstick pans, which are a potential source of the perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) being found in most of our bodies. My advice? Avoid nonstick pans when possible (using glass, enamel, and stainless steel instead); appropriately buy and care for any nonsticks you do use; and identify and reduce your other PFC exposure sources.

I also invited readers to share their positive experiences with the new "green" nonstick pans. A few folks did, so I thought I'd pass those thoughts along as further input.

For instance, one reader said that she loves cooking eggs in her ScanPan, which "has lasted many years without the surface scratching." I researched and found that ScanPan's Green Tek product has a ceramic-titanium nonstick surface, is PFOA-free, and allows the use of metal tools. While this pan seems like a decent option overall, I wouldn't give it a perfect grade because it doesn't identify its nonstick polymer, only avoids one PFC (PFOA), and doesn't provide its specific care information online.

A friend of mine also recently raved about her Cuisinart GreenGourmet nonstick frying pan, which she says is "a dream to cook with and clean up." The surface is hard-anodized aluminum with a petroleum-free ceramic-based nonstick coating that doesn't contain PFOA or PTFE. So this seems to be a slighter better option to consider.

A few readers also emailed me about their passion for cast iron pans, which they find to be nonstick when properly seasoned. I don't personally use these pans, because of their weight and special care needs, and I don't know that they offer the convenience that folks seek with nonstick pans. However, I pass that along as another option.

I also want to mention one reader's suggestion of using bamboo cooking utensils as natural non-scratching tools. What a good idea!


I'm delighted to offer you my Ask EcoGirl booklets, "Healthier Housecleaning" and "Detoxing Your Life." These unique, handy, and cheerful resources bring together key information you need to create a healthier home for your family and the planet. They make a great gift, and quantity discounts and wholesale prices are available. Plus all sales support my eco-healing community work. Tell a friend! Find out more at www.askecogirl.info/booklets.html.

I hope that you find this information useful. I welcome your throughts and feedback!

You can email me at ecogirl [at] askecogirl.info! You can also ask to be on my email article alerts list or connect via Facebook at www.facebook.com/AskEcoGirl.

For more information on this and related eco-topics, see my other Ask EcoGirl columns.

For more about my writing in general, on eco-issues and more, see my What's News page. My latest big article is True Green, published in NorthBay biz magazine. It's mission is to readers avoid green imposters and choose to buy and be authentically green. I had so much fun writing this!

This entire website is (c) Patricia Dines, 1998-2011. All rights reserved.
Page last updated 11/1/2011