The toxic secret in that microwave popcorn and take-out pizza

  • The toxic secret in that microwave popcorn and take-out pizza

    The good news: Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a dangerous chemical used for decades to make non-stick marvels like Teflon, is finally being phased out. By the end of this year, it can no longer be used in America.

    The bad news: The chemicals used to replace the older, hazardous PFOA are close relatives that may be just as dangerous to our health.

    Those “next generation” perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) may already be finding their way into your microwave popcorn, take-out pizza or even a Danish from the bakery department. And an international team of scientists is warning that we may be getting a larger dose than we ever imagined.

    It’s all about the “miracle of modern chemistry” that started with DuPont’s Teflon. But it turned out not to be such a miracle after all.

    Chemicals like PFOA in Teflon resist grease, stains and water. They allow us make an omelet without having to get a scouring pad out to clean the pan.

    But it looks like convenience got traded for some horrible diseases such as thyroid disease, colitis and even cancer.

    Industry claims (of course!) that the new PFCs being used in cookware and food packaging are safe – unlike PFOA – even though they’re less effective and much higher quantities are being used.

    But many scientists aren’t so sure.

    In fact, more than 200 of them from 38 countries have issued a warning about the potential harm to human health posed by both PFOA and PFCs. They want to see their production and use limited until less toxic alternatives are found.

    That document, called the “Madrid Statement,” says that these chemicals “only degrade very slowly, if at all,” and that the newer versions have similar structures to the old ones. It also points out that “little information is publicly available” about the new PFCs now in use.

    But keeping us in the dark about non-stick chemicals has practically become an industry tradition. For example, DuPont knew for decades that PFOA in Teflon was a major health hazard.

    It hid those findings, never telling its workers, people who lived near its plants or even the EPA. And 10 years ago that agency fined the company millions for the deception.

    So if history teaches us anything, it’s not to expect any information about the health dangers of the new PFCs to get out anytime soon.

    And those revelations may come a day late and a dollar short. Because at this point PFCs can be found in the blood of just about every man, woman and child in the United States, according to the CDC.

    How that happens isn’t really known, either. It could be from food, from water, using products that contain them – or because of their release into the environment.

    Even though it may sound like a lost cause to steer clear of these compounds altogether, it’s still important to lower your exposure as much as possible. The more you’re exposed, the higher the risk can be to your health.

    The Environmental Working Group has been following and investigating this for some time now. It recently issued a report called Poisoned Legacy about the history of PFOA and PFCs.

    The group also put out a guide to avoiding PFCs, which goes way beyond just skipping the pizza delivery. It lists things like avoiding non-stick pans and kitchen utensils, and buying products that aren’t treated to be stain-repellent.

    And if you’re craving some popcorn, the group warns to ditch the microwave varieties and make it the old fashioned way.

    To read the EWG’s guide to avoiding PFCs, click here.


    “The toxic truth about a new generation of nonstick and waterproof chemicals” EWG, May 1, 2015,