My quest for a PFAS-free frying pan


My quest for a PFAS-free frying pan

Published on 24 Feb 2020

Last month, I moved in to a new apartment. When all the cardboard boxes were unpacked, I realised that I had loads of cookware – but not a frying pan. And thus, my quest to buy one began.

Before I started working at ChemSec two years ago, it would be fair to say that I was the average unaware and unconcerned consumer who wouldn’t have thought twice about what type of frying pan to buy. But since then, I have begun to put a conscious effort into making informed choices and buying safer products. So, when I saw the green-labelled “PFOA-free” frying pan in the store, I was thrilled and bought it instantaneously.

But afterwards I couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling of knowing that PFOA is just one out of 4,700 PFAS chemicals that more often than not are equally hazardous. Had I been fooled by the green label and wordings such as “eco-friendly”?

After a bit of scrolling in the product description on the company’s website, I found what the non-stick coating was made of – PTFE – which is the abbreviation for the “consumer-friendly” name polytetrafluorethylene.

PTFE is, however, a synthetic fluoropolymer that most of us know by an entirely different name. The most well-known brand name of PTFE-based formulas is the infamous and highly-criticised Teflon.

“Had I been fooled by the
green label and wordings
such as ‘eco-friendly’?”

So, here I am, having bought a freaking Teflon pan when all I wanted was to not buy one.

In the product description, I also read that “all the materials we use are subject to a strict traceability, so that you know exactly what you’re buying from the outset”. So, I decided to send them an e-mail and ask if any other PFAS chemical is used for the coating.

Six days later I got a reply; “The product does not contain PFOA”.

“I know that already, it says so on the label!”, I wanted to write – perhaps adding a few more exclamation marks – but I composed myself and asked them again; “Could you please specify what is used instead of PFOA?”.

The answer I got was that the cookware complies with regulation and does not contain banned substances, and that they could not reveal the names of the chemicals used instead of PFOA due to trade secrecy.

So much for “strict traceability” and “knowing exactly what you’re buying”!

“Just because chemicals comply with the law, it doesn’t mean they’re safe and should be used”

There are a few things that get me going with this reply. First of all, complying with regulation and not using banned substances is something I count on and expect from them – but if there’s one thing I have learned from work, it is that most hazardous substances are not banned.

When it comes to the 4,700 PFAS chemicals out there, very few are in fact regulated. So, just because chemicals comply with the law, it doesn’t mean that they are safe and should be used.

Secondly, the thing with “trade secrets”. Trade secrets are a fundamental problem in supply chains all over the world, no matter the industry. Recently, I held a webinar for the textile industry and one of the participants asked what she should do when her supplier won’t reveal what chemicals are in the dye due to trade secrets. My answer was simple – choose another supplier.

I feel the same way about frying pans. I mean, how are we supposed to choose safer products when suppliers are hiding the presence of potentially harmful ingredients behind some kind of sacred trade secrecy?

Anyway, lesson learned. Next time, I won’t be fooled by nice words and pictures of green leaves.

PS. When you read this, I will have returned the frying pan to the store and bought a new one made from cast iron.

Alice Hyllstam
Business Developer at ChemSec