Teflon, a synthetic polymer, was somewhat accidentally discovered in 1938 by Roy Plunkett. It was eventually patented in 1945, and, by 1948, more than 900 tons were being produced per year.

This substance has many applications and uses. One example is GoreTex, the water resistant material which uses Teflon in rain coats.

Teflon, also known as polytetrafluoroethylene, is hydrophobic and has one of the lowest coefficients of friction against any solid; therefore, it has been used as a non-stick coating for cooking pans and utensils.

The first USA-made Teflon-coated pan was produced in 1961 under the name the “Happy Pan.”

Teflon has also been used to coat armor piercing bullets to help reduce the stress on the firearm’s rifling.

Most cooks were pleased to use Teflon-coated nonstick pans, but it has now been shown that this may present some health problems if used under certain conditions.

At higher temperatures Teflon may emit toxic gasses. Pet birds were reported to have been killed by the harmful emissions. In other words, “degradation by- products can be lethal to birds.”

Teflon is nontoxic at lower temperatures but begins to deteriorate as temperatures of cookware reach 500 degrees Fahrenheit.” Meat is usually cooked at 400 to 450 degrees.

Another synthetic polymer called PFOA is a key processing agent in the synthesis of Teflon. This substance has been linked to cancer and birth defects in some animals.

PFOA is found in the blood of 95 percent of Americans tested and it has been found in marine animals and polar bears. In one Johns Hopkins study, PFOA was found in 99 percent of tested umbilical cord blood of newborns.

At least eight major chemical companies have agreed to eliminate by 2015 the harmful chemicals used to make Teflon in all consumer products.

PFOA, a suspected carcinogen also known as perfluoro-octanoic acid or C8, will not be released into the environment any longer.

Teflon has been used in grease-resistant pizza boxes, fast-food containers, candy wrappers, stain-resistant carpet and microwave popcorn bags.

We understand the need to consume a healthy diet with safe foods but now it is also important to prepare our meals in a healthy manner.

This could mean using Teflon coated pans only at low temperatures and minimizing exposure to Teflon coated pizza boxes and microwave popcorn bags.

By the way, microwave popcorn costs about $4 to $6 per pound while regular popping corn is about $1 a pound. Microwave popcorn lovers can make their own microwave variety by putting a quarter cup of popcorn in a brown bag or glass bowl and microwaving on high for 2 to 3 minutes. You will save money and avoid exposure to possible toxins. Check out “Microwave Popcorn’s Health Problem: It’s in the Bag” at blog.aarp.org.

Aluminum, copper, cast iron, stainless steel and Corning Ware are some of the other choices. Cooking with aluminum pans is probably not related to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Naturally these are not nonstick surfaces, and cleanup is more difficult than when using Teflon-coated pans.

David Keisler is a gastroenterologist and internist in Aiken.