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Teflon Lawsuits Won't Become Class Action

Posted by Jane Akre
Friday, December 12, 2008 5:04 PM EST
Category: Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: Teflon, DuPont, Environmental Health, Dangerous Devices, Environmental Protection Agency, Carcinogen

Teflon class action will not be certified by a federal judge in Des Moines.



IMAGE SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons/ fried egg in nonstick pan/ author: David Benbennick


At one time, Teflon coated cookware was the most common nonstick coating one could find in modern cookware.

But Teflon, made by DuPont, has been the subject of questions about the environmental health created when Teflon, or other nonstick substances, reach temperatures higher than 464 degrees.

DuPont says the chemicals in the coatings are safe, but 89 people claim they got sick from Teflon-coated cookware. They had hoped to form a class-action in preparation for a lawsuit, but now they’ve been dealt a set-back.

U.S. District Senior Judge Ronald Longstaff has declined to certify the class.  The federal judge in Des Moines says the class is too unwieldy since it covers cookware purchased in 23 states.

In his 31-page decision he says, “The only common factor binding together all of the present plaintiffs is use of nonstick-coated cookware,” he cites differences among the plaintiffs such as where they bought the cookware, when, how they used it and what compelled them to buy it in the first place.

"Each of these issues will require an individualized inquiry, which the court believes will render each class action unmanageable," the judge said to the Des Moines Register.

Des Moines was named the home of the litigation two years ago when a special judicial panel moved lawsuits there to sort through the pretrial questions.

Why the plaintiffs bought the cookware is important because attorneys for consumers claim that DuPont misled consumers about the dangers of the chemicals in the coating.

Lawyers for DuPont claim there are many pans with a nonstick coating. “There is no way to tell who made a nonstick coating just by looking at it,” according to court documents filed by DuPont. 

Nonstick coatings have been made for about 40-years. Manufacturing a Teflon pan released perflurooctanoic acid, PFOA, which according to an EPA advisory panel is a likely human carcinogen.

In July 2004, the EPA claimed DuPont was in violation of regulations requiring reporting of information about chemicals to the EPA, including not reporting the levels of PFOA found in some water supplies, and in not reporting PFOA had been found to cross the placenta to the fetus of at least one DuPont worker in the 1980s.

Heating nonstick cookware has been known to produce toxins that can kill birds, and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has noted that people breathing in fumes result in what’s known as “polymer fume fever,” which is a short illness that mimics the flu with chills, a fever, chest discomfort and sore throat.  Nonstick plans are intended for low and medium heat cooking, according to DuPont.

A Danish study last year linked lower birth weight in babies to their mothers’ exposure to PFOA.  The study found that the higher the level of this chemical - a gas considered to be an environmental pollutant - in the mother's blood, the less her baby weighed. This finding mirrors the results of studies of PFOA's effects on animal birth weights.

Leaving the pan on the cook top on high, the EWG brought the pan to over 700 degrees in a little over three minutes.

Dr. C. Vyvyan Howard, of the University of Liverpool, says when you heat Teflon in a municipal incinerator to get rid of it temperatures up to 800 C, you get the formation of CFCs, or chlorofluorocarbons, the major greenhouse gas that’s been banned as a refrigerant. #

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