Hit a Turtle With a Frying Pan Lately?

AAAS 2008: Even low levels of "nonstick" chemicals can affect threatened loggerheads.

Hit a Turtle With a Nonstick Frying Pan Lately?

New research shows how "nonstick" chemicals affect threatened loggerheads.Laura Allen

Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) are what makes your Teflon pan slick and your stain-repellent couch bead up the red wine you spilled on it. Good for dinner parties, but not good for threatened loggerhead turtles, confirms a new study announced at AAAS today. (What is good for sea turtles these days?) During wear and tear and disposal of the pan and couch, the PFCs break down into perflurooctane sulphonate (PFOS). PFOS winds its way through the wastewater stream and ends up in crabs and mollusks which end up in loggerheads. Scientists from the National Institute of Standards and Technology analyzed loggerheads off the southeast U.S. coast and found that there's no longer any margin of safety between the exposure and the effects of PFOS on these poor critters—even the lowest levels of PFOS can depress their immune systems and damage their livers.

And bottlenosed dolphins? Because they're higher on the ocean food chain, they can stockpile more PFCs than a human being working in a PFC factory. Although 3M, the world's largest manufacturer of PFCs, phased out its use of the chemicals in 2001, PFCs are still widely employed in other products and persist in the environment.

No surprise, what's bad for turtles is also bad for humans—your body might have detectable levels of PFOS. Besides the chemical's potential presence in the seafood we eat and the water we drink, heating nonstick pans causes PFOS-laden fumes to float through your kitchen. The EPA says PFOS is carcinogenic, too. Not a nice meal for your dinner guests.

Here's how de-PFOS your environmental impact:
• Switch to nonstick pans
• Avoid coating your clothes and shoes with waterproofing products
• Decline the stain-resistant option for new furniture
• Don't buy hair care products and cosmetics with "fluoro" and "perfluoro" ingredients
• Cut down on greasy fast food—the packaging contains PFOS