Questions about the safety of certain chemicals in nonstick cookware have led to new alternatives touted to be safer than their nonstick conventional counterparts. I recently took a closer look at the claims made by GreenPan, Ltd. whose cookware by the same name is carried by popular retailers, including Target and the Home Shopping Network. Prices start at $24.99 for a single pan.
One reason GreenPan advertises its products are safer is because it claims they lack chemicals used to make most nonstick coatings: PTFE, short for polytetrafluoroethylene, and one of its ingredients, PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid. Lab studies suggest PFOA can cause cancer and birth defects in animals, and might pose a risk in humans. A CR investigation found when it’s used according to directions, nonstick cookware emits PFOA at levels lower than animal studies suggest are of concern. Still, our experts say it’s sensible to take a few precautions.
So if not PFOA, what are GreenPans made with? The cookware’s nonstick surface is made from Thermolon, which was described until recently as a “nano-composite material” on GreenPan’s Web site. Since “nano” can imply a material is made with nanotechnology, which Consumer Reports has raised safety concerns about, I tried to find out if that’s the case, but ended up with two different answers.
On the one hand, GreenPan is listed in the Consumer Products database published by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, which lists products believed to contain nano-based materials, taking GreenPans’ Web site at face-value. But when I asked the CEO of Thermolon, Ltd. if the coating was indeed a nano-composite, his reply was that “Thermolon is not a nano-composite,” and said that that description would be removed from the company’s Web site, which it was.
So, what started as a quest to learn whether the product is made with nanotechnology, ended with a denial that the material is even a nano-composite.
The bottom line is that consumers have no way to verify whether products are made with nanotechnology, because that information isn’t required on product labels. And whether nanoengineered materials are safe is another question, because testing to assess nanoscale risks is currently not required by the FDA.
Consumers Union has called for disclosure of nano-engineered materials in consumer products and mandatory safety assessments. Until then, marketing claims like GreenPan’s cannot be fully assessed, and in this case, might, or might not be, misleading.