Wednesday night I was browsing my Twitter and noticed a hashtag coming up again and again: #TeflonWinterPrep.
The purpose of a Twitter party is for a brand to attract and engage an audience by offering prizes (let’s face it, why most of us attend) and sharing fun ways to utilize the brand in everyday life. The comments went something like this, “Teflon, I couldn’t fry an egg without you!” “These products sure make life easier for moms!” “Really hope I win a new Teflon baking set!”
Here are just a few of the things I know to be true about Teflon and Dupont Chemical:
1) Widely used as a nonstick coating in cookware, Teflon is chemically known as polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE.) Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) are the backbone of most nonstick products and can become unstable at high temperatures or when the products begin to chip, flake, and break down. These degradation by-products can be lethal to birds, and can cause flu-like symptoms in humans. In May, 2003, the environmental research and advocacy organization Environmental Working Group filed a 14-page brief with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission petitioning for a rule requiring that cookware and heated appliances bearing non-stick coatings carry a label warning of hazards to people and to birds. They lost.
2) Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is a carcinogen, exerts hormonal affects, and is a liver, developmental, and immune system toxicant. In January 2006, DuPont, the only company that manufactures PFOA in the US, agreed to eliminate releases of the chemical from its manufacturing plants by 2015, but did not commit to completely phasing out its use of the chemical. They say they stopped using PFOA in 2012 but we do not know what it has been replaced with, we know they still utilize PFCs, and if you are using anything you didn’t buy in the past few months you’ve certainly still got a sticky chemical cocktail on your hands.
3) Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fined Teflon maker DuPont $16.5 million for two decades’ worth of covering up company studies that showed it was polluting drinking water and newborn babies with an indestructible chemical that causes cancer, birth defects and other serious health problems in animals.
Armed with that knowledge I have been trying to rid my kitchen of Teflon products for years. I agree that regular cast iron is a bitch to clean, so I replace them with enameled cast iron, glass, stainless steel, and even some of the questionable “greener” nonstick pans on the market. Spray with some oil or a pat of butter and the ease of my life as a working mother has not been compromised at all.
That said, I am the first to admit that I am NOT a perfect greenie. And just last night I used a Teflon baking pan in a pinch.This stuff sneaks up everywhere and it is entirely impossible to avoid all hazardous chemicals in your home. But I know that gradually replacing with safer items is a simple step anyone can take. We just need to be armed with the correct information, which is hard to do when brands are jamming their own deceitful messages down your throat.
But unlike a television ad, social media is an open forum where we can speak up and speak out against companies we take issue with. So this is what I said:
“Love to my fellow bloggers tweeting but please keep in mind that Teflon contains toxic PFOA. Please do your research
I made one additional comment to include a link for more information and then noticed several other bloggers and concerned tweeters chiming in to echo my sentiments and add their own. I did retweet a couple of their points.
At no time did I or anyone else that I noticed direct a comment to any of the individuals participating in the party. All comments were simply made with the trending hashtag or directly to the Teflon twitter handle. No one was attacking these women – we were bringing some perspective to a love-in for a brand we personally find deplorable. And we are entitled to do so.
I would do the same if I saw a sponsored Twitter party by Chevron or Chik-Fil-A or Bain Capitol. I have to look at enough misleading advertisements by these companies, so if we have the opportunity to comment in a public forum and take issue with these brands, that is our first amendment right. And I believe that any company with a backbone would acknowledge these comments directly and craft a thoughtful response.
I saw no acknowledgement of any of these comments during the few minutes I followed the Twitter party so I turned off and moved on. But the next day I received a public tweet from the blogger paid to run the party accusing me of being unprofessional. Apparently, her client was unhappy. But they have no reason to be unhappy with her – if anything she did her job extremely well by getting the hashtag to trend and creating a party with so many eager participants who didn’t really seem phased by the contrary comments.
Then that same blogger posted this response on her blog and tweeted it to me. In it, she notes that she cloth diapers, homeschools, and drives an electric car – by all accounts if you measured us each on some sort of green scale she would probably win. But she defends her support of Teflon as a product that helps her busy family. Fine. I appreciate her response, but was horrified by what she then implied about my actions – that I and others were trying to make other mothers feel bad about their choices. That we were somehow disrespectful to these mothers – even “bullies!”
Anyone who reads my blog or has read my book knows that is pretty much the antithesis of what I’m all about. Half my choices are probably quite wrong and I am always finding ways I could be doing better – sometimes embracing them and sometimes sidestepping them. But while I will never judge another mother for choosing the wrong toothpaste, I do want her to be able to make informed decisions that are not just based on the commercials in between cartoons.
We don’t all have time to do the research, but I have made this my mission. And I share my passion with so many wonderful green bloggers around the country who may still drive a gas guzzling SUV but at least we understand the implications.
And as for the choice of the blogger to work with this brand: I don’t condemn you for this. We all make our own choices in who we will and will not work with to support our families. Sometimes you sort of have to “rob Peter to pay Paul” or “break a few eggs to make an omelette” or whatever. I get it, but I don’t have to agree with it. Personally, I made a decision several years back to only work with brands who shared my social and environmental mission (which has meant turning down some serious money from time to time, but I digress.) My clients aren’t always perfect either, but if they were ever called out I would advise them to explain their stance and maybe think about a better solution. But above all, be transparent.
I apologize to anyone participating in the party who felt attacked, but we just wanted to offer a bit of perspective amongst all the nonstick love. A few of the moms even had the “GMO Labeling” advocacy banner on their profiles – maybe they just didn’t know some of these things about Teflon. We just want people to know that there are other options and we don’t always have to listen to what the big corporations are telling us. We aren’t bullies. We’re just a bunch of Davids trying to stand up to Goliath. But we’ll still eat cookies off your Teflon cookie sheet and hope that when it starts to ware out we can show you our groovy new stoneware. And if you want to just keep buying Teflon, well, we’ll still eat your cookies – if you’ll let us.