Teflon

Teflon and other non-stick substances use a type of chemical called perfluorochemicals. These are also used to make stain-resistant clothing and other domestic products like stain resistant carpets. Dr Mariann Lloyd-Smith, an advisor to the National Toxic Network, says there's research to show perfluorochemicals can lead to cancer.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the United States has warned that Teflon and other non-stick substances may cause birth defects as well as cancer. The EPA has now moved to stop the use of the chemical by US manufacturers.

Australia has the second highest recorded levels of perfluorochemicals, behind the United States. Blood samples from more than 400 people in Sydney, Canberra, Wollongong and Newcastle, have found higher levels of the chemicals than similar studies in Canada, Japan, India, Brazil, Belgium and Italy. There are now calls for the Australian Government to ban the chemicals immediately.

Dr Lloyd- Smith says that perflurochemicals are almost impossible to get rid of, because they accumulate in the food chain, or bioaccumulate in humans. They can travel in water and air and can be found across the globe.

As a result of these findings, eight major manufacturers of domestic goods in the USA have agreed to phase out the use of one type of perfluorochemicals. The Stockholm convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants is on the verge of issuing a worldwide ban on the other type, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).

In Australia, there's a voluntary ban on one of the pollutants, but on the other the Government has only issued a warning, and not banned it. Dr Lloyd-Smith is calling on the Australian Government to follow the lead of the American Environmental Protection Agency and work with industry on a voluntary code to stop using these chemicals. Dr Lloyd-Smith anticipates that there will soon be an international ban for the ceasing of all uses of Teflon and its derivatives. She also says that Australia should act very quickly to get the chemicals off the market, because we now know that there is contamination at high levels throughout the Australian population. No tests have yet been conducted on children, but it is well known that children absorb contaminants much more readily than adults.

As people vacuum their stain-resistant carpets and cook with their non-stick pots and pans, they have not been aware until now of the risk. Now that we are aware, we must ask ourselves if adding yet another cancer risk to the list is worth saving some time cleaning our fry pans, clothes and carpets.

Non-stick cookware isn't an essential – neither is stain resistant carpet and clothing. Shout yourself a stainless steel fry pan – and tell your friends – especially the ones with young children.