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Peer-Reviewed Bird Deaths

May 15, 2003

Canaries in the Kitchen: Peer-Reviewed Bird Deaths

Bird Death Diary headerBird Death Diary header

Killed: Five cocatiels
Implicated in death: Frying pan, accidentally overheated

In 1975, in one of the early peer-reviewed articles on bird deaths, the authors describe the deaths of five pet birds following the owner’s heating a non-stick (PTFE-coated) pan:

“Five cocatiels (Nymphicus hollandicus) died within 30 minutes following exposure to fumes from a frying pan coated with the "non-stick" plastic polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) that had accidentally overheated. Within an hour the owner developed symptoms of "polymer fume fever" but recovered in the next 24 hours. Clinical signs and post mortem lesions of the cockatiels are described and reference is made to the unusual susceptibility of parakeets to the pyrolysis products of frying pans coated with PTFE.” [12].

Killed: More than 1200 broiler chicks
Implicated in death: PTFE-coated heat lamp lightbulbs

Bird deaths related to non-stick coatings are not restricted to exotic species in the home. A recent article recounts that hours after moving 2400 broiler chicks to a research warehouse at University of Columbia-Missouri, researchers noticed that substantial numbers of chicks were dying. Four percent of the chicks died in the first four hours, and within 72 hours more than half of the chicks were dead. After investigating the possibility of many common gas toxicants, scientists traced the deaths to lightbulbs coated with the Teflon chemical PTFE: “Further investigation revealed that the only change in management practice in this facility prior to the onset of the severe mortality problem was the replacement of 48 heat lamp bulbs (one for each pen). The new heat lamp bulbs were polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) coated. PTFE gas intoxication has been reported in several exotic avian species, but this intoxication has not been previously reported in a poultry flock.” [13].

Killed: Two parakeets
Implicated in death: Melted Teflon microwave component

A Dutch doctor reported on the deaths of two pet parakeets that died within minutes of being exposed to toxic fumes coming from a defective microwave oven part — a melted and scorched Teflon block used as an axle for a rotating platform in the oven. The owner, a 26-year-old, healthy woman, went to the hospital complaining of difficult breathing, chest tightness and cough. At the hospital, doctors noted that her heart was racing, and she had high blood pressure, “leukocytosis” and was breathing heavily. Also, an X-ray showed she had “diffuse pulmonary infiltrate”. Her lung function was still abnormal a month later [14].

Killed: 80 to 100 wild birds
Implicated in death: Fumes from non-stick manufacturing facility

In 1997 scientists in England reported that 80 to 100 wild birds were found dead in a four-hour time span approximately 700 feet from an industrial plant in western England that coated sheet metal with non-stick paint containing PTFE. On the afternoon of the bird deaths, the plant had some problems that resulted in oven temperatures raised up to 880 degF (470 degC) to improve the coating of the sheet metal with the PTFE-containing paint. Wind direction was consistent with fumes travelling from the plant to where the dead birds were found. The authors write, "Most of the birds were found dead, but some were alive, gasping for breath, and died shortly afterwards" [15].