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Teflon found to contain cancer risk

SOURCE: [Transcript] The World Today - Friday, 27 January , 2006 12:30:00
Reporter: Tom Iggulden

"There's worrying news today about the high levels of a potentially carcinogenic chemical, which is found in most of our kitchens.

Teflon and other non-stick substances contain a compound that the Environmental Protection Agency 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 US.

But The World Today has obtained a copy of an official Australian Government report showing this country has the second highest recorded levels of the chemical, behind the United States.

And as Tom Iggulden reports, there are now calls for the Australian Government to ban the chemicals immediately."

TOM IGGULDEN: As the weekend approaches and with it the traditional Sunday morning fry-up, you might want to think again about sizzling your bacon and eggs in your non-stick frypan.

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

Dr Mariann Lloyd-Smith, an advisor to the National Toxic Network, which lobbies government on the issue of toxic chemicals, says there's research to show perfluorochemicals may lead to cancer and birth defects.

MARIANN LLOYD-SMITH: They are pretty much impossible to get rid of. And that is their big problem: their persistency, their ability to bioconcentrate up the food chain, or bioaccumulate in humans, and their ability to travel in water and air across the globe. So we find they have contaminated basically the whole globe.

TOM IGGULDEN: 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 or PFOAs.

And the Stockholm convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants is on the verge of issuing a worldwide ban on the other type, perfluorooctane sulfonate or PFOS.

In Australia, there's 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 Government to follow the lead of the American Environmental Protection Agency and work with industry on a voluntary code to stop using PFOAs.

MARIANN LLOYD-SMITH: This is perhaps a start by the USEPA (United States Environmental protection Agency), 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 PFOAs.

TOM IGGULDEN: Would you see it as making sense for the Australian Government to also make a start, as you put it, by perhaps drawing up a similar code here in Australia?

MARIANN LLOYD-SMITH: Oh yes, without a doubt. And certainly we will be speaking with the national industrial chemical regulator here in Australia, asking them what their action's going to be now. And hopefully, you know, maybe Australia could be the first country to actually out-and-out ban PFOAs, which would be really wonderful.

TOM IGGULDEN: And there are 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 than 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.

MARIANN LLOYD-SMITH: Well, 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 right through the Australian population. And hopefully they will move quickly to get these chemicals off the market.

TOM IGGULDEN: And, she says, as people vacuum their stain-resistant carpets and cook with their non-stick pots and pans, they should be asking themselves whether it's worth the risk.

MARIANN LLOYD-SMITH: 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-resistance. These aren't things that are essential to human life.

TOM IGGULDEN: They may not be essential, but they would be attractive when you're trying to sell these products, I would imagine. For manufacturers that do want to continue to sell products like this, is there an alternative to using these sorts of chemicals?

MARIANN LLOYD-SMITH: There are some alternatives. Certainly, they're not as easy, they're certainly not as persistent as the fluorochemicals, but I think it's time that we actually have to stop and say, well, do we want stain protection in clothing or our handbags at the cost of contamination of every living thing on the planet?

ELEANOR HALL: Dr Mariann Lloyd-Smith of the Toxic Chemicals Network speaking to Tom Iggulden.