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A non-stick danger

Using Teflon frypans and other cooking utensils may damage the environment, a new study suggests. The commercial polymer, Teflon, is one of a class of chemicals known as fluorinated polymers whose non-stick properties are exploited in cooking utensils, ovens and combustion engines.

However, when heated, these polymers can emit a chemical known as trifluoroacetic acid (TFA) which is toxic to plants and does not break down in the environment, a study in today's Nature reveals. TFA is known as a breakdown product of gases that were introduced to replace ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), but present environmental levels of TFA are not accounted for.//

"By measuring TFA levels in rainwater over the last three to four years, researchers estimated there should be 100 to 120 parts per trillion in the water by the year 2020," says the study's lead author, David Ellis, from the University of Toronto.

The heating also produces two other classes of environmentally-damaging chemicals: polyfluoro- and polychlorofluoro-carboxylic acids, which are being phased out of the US because of links with possible adverse health and environmental impacts, and CFCs, which are both greenhouse gases and ozone destroyers.

Continued use of Teflon and other related polymers may release a chemical combination that exacerbates global warming and ozone-depletion in the stratosphere, the researchers concluded.


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