Should we throw our old pots, pans and frying pans with non-stick coating in the trash? PFAS (perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances), widely used since the 1950s in various fields such as non-stick coatings, cosmetics, textiles, food packaging, fire-fighting foams or phytosanitary products, are part of the “forever chemicals ". Among them, PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid, mainly used in the manufacture of Teflon), banned in Europe since 2020, has just been classified as carcinogenic by the IARC (international agency for research on cancer). Should we renew our kitchenware? Is the problem more complex than just changing pans?
“PFOA represents both a challenge for the environment and for public health,” explains the Ministry of Ecological Transition to Le Figaro. It could be advisable to replace certain everyday consumer items if they are old or degraded, such as stoves or water-repellent textiles, in favor of PFAS-free alternatives.” But what does “old” or “degraded” mean? Probably much more than you think, according to manufacturers and resellers: for the lifespan of a non-stick pan, Téfal announces 2 to 3 years on its website, De Buyer indicates that you should get rid of it when food starts to stick. However, everyone can agree on one point (which, again, probably few of us respect): these pots and pans should only be used on low and medium heat.
In 2022, the magazine 60 million consumers carried out an experiment on pans with non-stick that had undergone low abrasion in order to simulate 10 weeks of use. Food was cooked there and then analyzed. Bottom line: Some pans seem more likely to release PFOA than others. And the mention “without PFOA” is not a guarantee: certain foods cooked in utensils which bore this mention contained it, but in very small quantities, and without the study making it possible to rule on their origin (they can also come from of the food packaging). It should be noted that the analysis also revealed the presence of other problematic fluorinated compounds.
At the end of November, an article in the journal The Lancet indicated that PFOA and PFOS (perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, used to treat food contact textiles and papers) “are detected in blood samples in populations studied around the world, and Median levels are up to a hundred times higher in communities near polluted sites. These two molecules “accumulate in various tissues, including the blood, liver and lungs. They are found in the placenta, cord blood and embryonic tissues and can be transferred to infants via breast milk.” And it takes time to get rid of them: their half-life (time necessary for their activity to decrease by half) can be several years in humans. Is this worrying?
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The article in The Lancet states that the evidence that PFOA causes cancer in exposed laboratory animals and humans is “sufficient.” PFOA causes immunosuppression and epigenetic alterations. Thus 30 international experts from 11 countries met from November 7 to 14, 2023 at the IARC (international center for research on cancer) in Lyon, in order to evaluate PFOA, PFOS and their derivatives (salts and isomers). After analyzing the results of various independent scientific studies, the IARC announced that “the working group classified PFOA as “carcinogenic to humans” (Group 1) and PFOS as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”. man” (Group 2B)”. However, everything is always a question of dose, and even if the substance is dangerous, it is difficult to know at what thresholds the risk appears.
Have we waited too long to ban these compounds? PFAS are molecules that contain the element fluorine, both hydrophobic and lipophobic (they “repel” water like oil), with great chemical stability. These characteristics give the objects non-stick, waterproofing and resistance to high heat properties, which explains their success. But as early as 2009, PFAS were part of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants called the “POPs Regulation”. PFOS was banned in 2009, then PFOA in July 2020, and PFHxS (perfluorohexanesulfonic acid) in June 2022. The French Ministry of Ecological Transition published an action plan on PFAS on January 17, 2023.
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Banning them will not be enough to protect us from them, because they persist in the environment for a very long time. According to the Lancet article, “the general population is primarily exposed to PFOA and PFOS through food and drinking water, and potentially through consumer products.” The exhibition is therefore not limited to our kitchen utensils. In addition, the IARC specifies that “exposures are expected to be highest among workers involved in the production of PFOA and PFOS or who use these chemicals directly in the manufacture of other products”, as well as in the disposal of waste. . The Ministry of Ecological Transition is working with Europe on the ban on dangerous PFAS and it “calls for an increased level of vigilance and action”, particularly in the monitoring of these chemical species in humans (campaign of Esteban biomonitoring) and in aquatic environments (Naïades programs). “The government has also asked Anses to define new health reference values for these molecules, or to review existing values,” specifies the Ministry of Ecological Transition.