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According to the findings of a 2006 Environmental Protection Agency scientific advisory panel, the primary chemical used to make Teflon -- perfluorooctanoic acid or PFOA -- is a "likely human carcinogen." But that applies only to PFOA that has been emitted into the environment.
"The link between Teflon cookware and cancer is an entirely different subject," says Robert Wolke, professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh and author of the two-part book series What Einstein Told His Cook. "There is no PFOA in the final Teflon product, so there is no risk that it will cause cancer in those who use Teflon cookware."
That said, Wolke warns, "heating a Teflon pan to 500 degrees or more" (as happens when we leave empty pans on high heat by mistake) can result in smoke and gases that can cause flu-like symptoms in humans and kill pet birds.
So keep an eye on your stovetop and keep your smoke alarms in good working order.