National Teflon Day—Seriously?!

What’s National Teflon Day?

According to National Day Calendar, yesterday (April 6th) was “National Teflon Day”—a day to “celebrate” the accidental discovery in 1938 of a chemical called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE for short)—better known by the product it became associated with, Teflon™.

Two 3D emoji rolling their eyes.

Teflon™ is PFAS Wrapped in a Bow

PTFE, the main component of Teflon™, is a fluorinated polymer that belongs to the PFAS chemical class—aka “forever chemicals.” PTFE is extremely heat- and stick-resistant—properties that lend themselves to a variety of uses, ranging from nonstick pans to semiconductors.

While some argue that PTFE itself does not present a health risk when used properly, the harms of PTFE become clear when you look across the chemical’s lifecycle—particularly the ways it’s produced and how it’s disposed of.

The Harms of PTFE Production

Harmful PFAS are used to produce PTFE and are also byproducts of the production process—exposing workers and surrounding communities.

PFOA—a notoriously toxic PFAS linked to cancer and heart disease—was used to manufacture PTFE for decades. In response to public pressure to phase out PFOA due to its harms, companies created other PFAS to replace PFOA—such as GenX, which has similar health effects as its predecessor. In addition to these harmful inputs, toxic PFAS byproducts are also created and released during the manufacturing of PTFE.

Decades of manufacturing PTFE have led to widespread PFAS contamination of our environment and our bodies.

The Harms of PTFE Disposal

At the end of the chemical lifecycle, fluoropolymers like PTFE may end up in a landfill—say, when you throw away your old Teflon™ pan. Over time, particles begin to disintegrate, leading to contamination of landfill liquids with PFAS that can then make their way into soil and drinking water.

Waste containing PTFE may also be incinerated. Burning of any type of PFAS is known to generate many other harmful PFAS—including potent greenhouse gases, such as tetrafluoromethane (which has a warming potential 6,500 times that of carbon dioxide).

Next Steps

Given the public health and climate effects of PTFE throughout its lifecycle, the next steps are clear: 1) Stop producing PTFE and other fluoropolymers for uses where there are clear alternatives; and 2) Stop celebrating the discovery of Teflon™ and the explosion of PFAS products (and pollution) that followed.

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