Should you throw out your nonstick pans?


I’ve been getting lots of questions relating to the documentary Dark Waters.

For example, Dannette wrote:

“I just  watched the movie “Dark Waters” which makes the case against Teflon.  I immediately threw away my nonstick pans. I’m concerned about ALL nonstick surfaces now. I’m not sure if I need to be. I’d love it if you watched it and then let me know what you think. I love having a good nonstick pan, but it isn’t worth my family’s long term health. I just want to figure out what my best options are for being completely safe cooking for my family.”

7/5/20 UPDATE: In my original response (posted here on June 25th), I disclosed that I had not seen the movie Dark Waters.  Unfortunately, that did not keep me from making some false assumptions about it.   In response to valid criticisms, I’ve removed my original comments about the movie Dark Waters, which included some inaccuracies.  (See the comments for several thoughtful descriptions of the movie).

This doesn’t change my answer to Dannette’s question. Although I don’t personally use it, I don’t think users of modern nonstick cookware need to be concerned about chemicals leaching into their food.  But let me add some additional context:

Although PFOA persists in the environment,  it is no longer used in nonstick cookware.  And even when it was used in Teflon cookware, the primary threat was not due to exposure from use of the pans but from industrial dumping of the chemical into the water supply.

Although I’m not afraid of poisoning myself or my family by using nonstick cookware,I prefer to use stainless steel, cast iron, glass, and silicone. I use a little oil or cooking spray when necessary.  I sometimes have to clean a pan.

But the choices that we make individually about which products we use do not necessarily protect us from industrial chemicals that may be harmful to the environment in which we all live.

There are ongoing, legitimate concerns about the process by which industrial chemicals are tested and approved for safety and impact on the environment, including downstream effects on wildlife and human life.

Thank you to all who helped clarify this issue.

8 thoughts on “Should you throw out your nonstick pans?

  1. Thanks for your input, Monica. I think you may be mistaken about what Dark Waters is, and what its claims are.

    Dark Waters is a historically accurate dramatization of attorney Robert Bilott’s battle against DuPont. It’s not a documentary, let alone the type of “shockumentary” you describe above. Bilott’s litigation has been highly successful, causing DuPont to change course and settle most of its cases. I agree with your criticism of documentary activism, especially the way it plays out in criminal cases, but that criticism really doesn’t apply here. Dark Waters is clearly focused on the health effects caused by DuPont’s dumping of PFOA such that it affected drinking water; the film does not make any claims that using any type of non-stick cookware would cause the same problem. The EPA recently announced an intent to regulate PFOA, which the site you linked clarifies has not been used in Teflon since 2013:

    1. Thanks for your comment. It’s interesting that all of the emails that I’ve received about the film (such as the one I quoted here) say that watching the film caused them to fear all non-stick cookware. As you are obviously much more familiar with the movie than I am, what would you say the take home message was? Seeing as PFOA has not been used in Teflon since 2013 and the EPA intends to regulate it, is this merely history? A cautionary tale? What action, if any, should viewers take based on this information?

      1. I’m not sure if it is a flaw in the film that some people’s take home message was “dump your teflon” or if this can be explained by people’s tendency to seek easy solutions to complex problems.
        The take away message I got from the film (and before that the real-life case) is that corporations will knowingly endanger the health and well-being of their workers and their communities if it means that they can save money.
        The statement in the Healthline article that “he health effects of PFOA exposure are no longer a cause for concern” is incorrect. PFOA may not have been used since 2013 but that is irrelevant because it is incredibly persistent in the environment. It and other PFAS-class chemicals have been used in manufacturing and in products such as fire-fighting foams for many years. Once they are in the environment they are very hard to remove. They are also bioaccumulative, which means that blood and tissue concentrations increase up the food chain so the species at the top of the food chain has much higher concentrations in their system than those at the bottom. (spoiler alert – that usually means humans) This is what makes them such a concern – not whether there are trace amounts left on a teflon pan or not (although that is also not great). We need to be worried about PFAS and PFOA because they are persistent in the environment and therefore can travel far in groundwater meaning they have the potential to affect everyone and anyone. As illustrated in the film, however, the acute and extreme effects in these scenarios will almost always be visited upon the already under-served in our societies.
        I don’t have any connection to the film or its creators.

    2. Darn – I wish someone would ask – “WHAT WERE THEY REPLACED WITH?” And, “IS IT ANY SAFER?” We have time under our belts, and guess what? NOPE. I’ve searched much deeper than this – but here’s the quick gist: “C8 was replaced in the manufacturing process by GenX chemicals, specifically hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer and its ammonium salt, in 2012. GenX chemicals have been found in surface water, groundwater, drinking water, rainwater, and air emissions, according to the EPA.” … As mentioned at the end of the film, there are 600 FOREVER chemical products with little to no EPA regulation. Guess we gotta keep cancer around somehow!

  2. Joshua did a great job summarizing the movie and its premise. I really enjoyed it and didn’t find it to be a shockumentary at all. It has been compared to Erin Brockovich– a david and goliath story where one man takes on the unregulated/powerful chemical company which is dumping toxic chemicals in people’s drinking water. I don’t normally comment but felt this was not an accurate description and I was a bit surprised because I find that you usually do a thorough job of researching your blogs.

    1. Yes, Amanda, clearly I got hold of the wrong end of this one. I will watch the movie and write a new post when I have.

  3. Agree. Additionally, A good rule is replace them approximately every five years. Look at your pans frequently. When they start to appear warped, discolored, or scratched, be sure to stop using them. I can’t relate to the movie “Dark Waters” honestly because I haven’t watched it yet. But I’m planning to watch it soon. It seems that I can learn a lot from that movie.

  4. While nonstick pans aren’t bad options to consider, they aren’t the ones that I would go with first. As you mentioned here, stainless steel and cast iron are my preferred options.

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