Non-Stick: The Silent Killer
Did you know that when Non-Stick surfaces burn
they give off toxic fumes that kill birds?
Join the Long Island
Parrot Society in our fight to make sure non-stick items are labeled with a warning that
it can kill birds!
Is there a killer in your kitchen?
Have you ever known someone whose bird “just died”? Perhaps they kept the bird in or near the kitchen, and one day just found the bird dead. “He probably had a heart attack”, reasoned the owner, but the cause was possibly something more insidious.
Virtually all non-stick cookware and appliances are coated with polymers containing polytetrafluorethelyne (PTFE). TEFLON is a brand name. Non-stick cookware and appliances are available under many different brand names, including Silverstone, Calphalon, Analon, Scanpan and more. When heated, PTFE releases fumes and particulate matter into the air. These odorless, colorless vapors can kill your birds within minutes.
Often the first symptoms are fatal ones. The birds are found dead or gasping for air, then dying within minutes. Their lungs are severely damaged by the caustic effects of the fumes; this leads to severe respiratory distress, then death. Post mortem examination reveals congestion and hemorrhage in the airways; lungs are dark red and wet. Specific evidence of PTFE products is not always apparent, although some microscopic particulate matter may be present.
A few birds have survived mild exposure to PTFE fumes. Their symptoms have included difficulty breathing and frantic behavior. Oxygen therapy has been successful in a few cases, but most result in death. Humans may exhibit flu-like symptoms when exposed to PTFE fumes. 20/20 did an expose’ on Teflon several years ago and featured a woman whose bird had succumbed to the fumes. Numerous wild birds living near a factory that produces PTFE products have died.
How do you know which products are safe? Salespeople seldom know what you’re talking about when you inquire about the safety of non-stick cookware or appliances near your pet birds. Often, manufacturers’ customer service personnel are unaware or undereducated about the problem. Manufacturers are also at odds about the temperatures necessary to cause the release of PTFE fumes. Some place it at 560° and others indicate that it is higher or lower. Research has shown that products actually begin releasing such fumes at the beginning of the heating process. Birds have died when non-stick products have been heated to temperatures far below 560°.
Contact manufacturers of suspect products before you purchase them. You can often find an address or telephone number on the packaging. Ask if the products contain polymers containing PTFE. If you are told they do not, insist on written assurance of that fact. Of course companies cannot guarantee that any product is absolutely safe for use around birds because most products are not routinely tested on birds, and manufacturers do not have control over how you use the product.
For instance, if you burn some food in a “safe” stainless steel pan and the smoke kills your bird, it’s certainly not the manufacturer’s fault. Smoke from burned on food and grease inside an oven may reach deadly levels during the self-cleaning cycle. Again, not the manufacturer’s fault. Smoke inhalation can be fatal, no matter what the source. However, oven parts may have been treated with chemicals other than, or in addition to PTFE to retard corrosion and these too may be deadly to birds when the oven is heated. Investigate prior to purchase. Ask to speak to someone in the manufacturer’s technical division. Read the product’s material safety data sheet.
If you have been assured that a product does not contain PTFE and is safe to use around birds, and you use it in accordance with directions, and it produces fumes that kill your birds, the manufacturer may have some liability. A few manufacturers, like Corning Revere, do print warnings in product instructions against using non-stick cookware where pet birds are present, but you really have to read the fine print to find it.
Your best defense? Don’t use non-stick cookware or appliances! Ventilate your home well when using any cooking appliances and do not keep birds in or near the kitchen or where cooking fumes may permeate the room. Use a range hood that vents to outdoors, and let some fresh air inside every day!
You can help! Incorporate a PTFE warning into your answering machine message. Write to the cooking editor of your local newspaper about the danger of non-stick cookware and appliances to pet birds. Ask your pet store proprietor to hang a sign warning customers about PTFE hazards. Make copies of this article…enclose them with your bill payments—distribute them at work, club meetings, vets’ offices, pet shops, etc. Print some labels stating that “Fumes from heated non stick cookware and appliances will kill pet birds quickly!” and attach them to bills and correspondence.
ÓSusan Chamberlain 2006 for The Long Island Parrot Society
Teflon®, T-Fal and Silverstone are just a few of the many different brand names for non-stick products. Some additional products that may contain non-stick coatings or components:
Some stove parts and barbeque grills may have been treated with chemicals (not necessarily PTFE) that may be harmful or fatal to birds during cooking, grilling or cleaning cycles. Ventilate your home well when cooking and do not keep birds in or near the kitchen. Be sure that smoke from barbeque grills does not drift into your home.)
When purchasing any new products call the manufacturers ask them if it contains non stick components and ask them to give it to you in writing. It may take a few weeks. They will get back to you.
Please -- this could mean life or death for your birds.