The government is spending $12.5 million to figure out if non-stick pans are bad for your health


The Australian government is spending $12.5 million to figure out if non-stick pans are bad for your health.

The 2017 federal budget reveals the sum will be spent over four years from 2017-18 to establish a National Research Program to study the potential effects of exposure to per-and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances on human health.

Per-and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances, or PFAS for short – one of the best-known brands is Teflon – are in a wide range of industrial processes and consumer products, including non-stick cookware, specialised garments and textiles, products used to protect fabric and remove stains, metal plating and in some types of fire-fighting foam.

The study is undoubtedly inspired by contamination around the Williamstown RAAF base near Newcastle, NSW, where PFAS (mainly PFOS) have historically been used in fire-fighting foams to extinguish class B liquid fires. The contamination led to local residents being told not to use groundwater, bore water or surface water for drinking or cooking and to avoid swallowing groundwater or surface water. They were also told to avoid eating home grown food and locally caught fish and property prices in the area have plummeted as a result.

The Department of Health has this to say about the effect of PFASs can have on humans :

Once they are ingested, PFOS and PFOA are eliminated very slowly from the human body. This means concentrations of these chemicals in the body increase over time if they are continuously consumed in food or water. They have been found in human blood, urine, breast milk and babies’ umbilical cord blood. These chemicals have been shown to have some effects, particularly in the liver, at low doses in animal tests. Other effects of PFOS and PFOA noted in testing on laboratory animals include benign tumours and impact on reproduction and development. Nevertheless, the scientific literature on their effects in humans does not give conclusive results.

The Cancer Council acknowledges these findings, although it says the “results of these studies have not provided conclusive evidence that PFOA causes cancer in animals. Very little research has investigated the effect of PFOA on human cancer risk.”

But Bruce Lourie, co-author of Slow Death by Rubber Duck: How the Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Life Affects Our Health told ABC radio that the heat a non-stick frypan on high for 10 minutes and the toxic gasses it releases would kill a bird in the kitchen.

The new program will be informed by an expert health panel and administered by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

The cost of the program will be met from within the existing resources of the Department of Defence and the Department of Health.

More budget coverage:

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