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Call for ban on non-stick chemicals

Last Update: Friday, January 27, 2006. 1:10pm (AEDT) 

There is worrying news today about the high levels of a potentially carcinogenic chemical that is found in most kitchens.

Teflon and other non-stick substances contain a compound that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the United States has warned may cause cancer and birth defects.

The US regulator has now moved to stop the use of the chemical by manufacturers in the that country.

But ABC Radio's The World Today program has obtained a copy of an official Australian Government report showing this country has the second highest recorded levels of the chemicals behind the United States.

There are now calls for the Australian Government to ban the chemicals immediately.

Teflon and other non-stick substances use a type of chemical called perfluorochemicals and they are also used to make stain-resistant clothing and a host of other domestic products.

Birth Defects

Dr Mariann Lloyd Smith, an adviser to the National Toxic Network that lobbies government on the issue of toxic chemicals, says there is research to show perfluorochemicals may lead to cancer and birth defects.

"They are pretty much impossible to get rid of, and that is their big problem," she said.

"Their persistency, their ability to bio-concentrate up the food chain or bio-accumulate in humans, and their ability to travel in water and air across the globe - so we find they have contaminated basically the whole globe."

This week eight major manufacturers of domestic goods in the United States agreed to phase out the use of one of the two most common types of perfluorochemicals - perfluorooctanoic acids (PFOAs).

The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants is on the verge of issuing a worldwide ban on the other type, perfluorooctane sulphonate (PFOS).

In Australia, there is already a recent voluntary ban on PFOS, but on PFOAs the Government has only issued a warning, stopping short of banning it.

Dr Lloyd Smith is calling on the Federal Government to follow the lead of the American Environmental Protection Agency (AEPA) and work with industry on a voluntary code to stop using PFOAs.

"This is perhaps a start by the US EPA, but it probably will be superseded and certainly we will be pushing for it to be superseded, with an international ban for the ceasing of all uses of peak PFOAs," she said.

"We will be speaking with the national chemical regulator here in Australia asking them what their action's going to be now and hopefully maybe it ... would be the first country to actually out-and-out ban PFOAs, which would be really wonderful."

There are also signs that could be a possibility with the release of a soon-to-be published Government report showing Australia ranks only behind the US in terms of levels of PFOAs and PFOS.


Taking blood samples from more than 400 people in Sydney, Canberra, Wollongong and Newcastle, the Government team found higher levels of the chemicals in similar studies in Canada, Japan, India, Brazil, Belgium and Italy.

Dr Lloyd Smith says the study should increase pressure on the Government for urgent action.

"I think it certainly puts pressure on our regulatory agencies to act very quickly because we already now know that we have contamination at high levels throughout the Australian population and hopefully they will move quickly to get these chemicals off the market," she said.

She also says as people vacuum their stain-resistant carpets and cook with their non-stick pots and pans, they should be asking themselves whether it is worth the risk.

"People can cook without using non-stick cookware - it isn't an essential for life and I think you would say the same very much for many of the clothing uses which is all to do with stain resistant - these aren't things that are essential to human life," she said.

"There are some alternatives, certainly they're not as easy, certainly they're not as persistent as the fluoro chemicals, but I think it's time that we actually have to stop and say 'well, do we want stain protection in clothing or a handbag at the cost of contamination of every living thing on the planet'."