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Teflon kills birds

Canaries in the Kitchen: Teflon kills birds

May 15, 2003

Avian veterinarians have known for decades that Teflon-coated and other non-stick cookware can produce fumes that are highly toxic to birds. As early as 1986, a Chicago-area expert on “Teflon toxicosis” called the phenomenon a “leading cause of death among birds,” and estimated that hundreds of birds are killed by the fumes and particles emitted from Teflon-coated products each year [1][2]. Although an accurate national accounting of deaths is not available, in a single year this Chicago veterinarian documented 296 bird deaths in 105 cases involving non-stick cookware.

Under ordinary cooking scenarios, Teflon kills birds. A review of the literature and bird owners’ accounts of personal experience with Teflon toxicosis shows that Teflon can be lethal at normal cooking temperatures, with no human lapses in judgment or wakefulness.

Bird deaths have been documented during or immediately after the following normal cooking scenarios:

  • New Teflon-lined Amana oven was used to bake biscuits at 325°F; all the owner’s baby parrots died [3] [4].
  • Four stovetop burners, underlined with Teflon-coated drip pans, were preheated in preparation for Thanksgiving dinner; 14 birds died within 15 minutes [2] [5].
  • Nonstick cookie sheet was placed under oven broiler to catch the drippings; 107 chicks died [2].
  • Self-cleaning feature on the oven was used; a $2,000 bird died [5].
  • Set of Teflon pans, including egg poaching pan, were attributed to seven bird deaths over seven years [6].
  • Water burned off a hot pan; more than 55 birds died [7].
  • Electric skillet at 300°F and space heater were used simultaneously; pet bird died [8].
  • Toaster oven with a non-stick coating was used to prepare food at a normal temperature; bird survived but suffered respiratory distress [9].
  • Water being heated for hot cocoa boiled off completely; pet bird died [10].
  • Grill plate on gas stove used to prepare food at normal temperatures; two birds died on two separate occasions [11].

DuPont claims that its coating remains intact indefinitely at 500°F [12]. Experiences of consumers whose birds have died from fumes generated at lower temperatures show that this is not the case. In one case researchers at the University of Missouri documented the death of about 1,000 broiler chicks exposed to offgas products from coated heat lamps at 396°F [13].

DuPont also claims that human illness will be produced only in cases involved gross overheating, or burning the food to an inedible state [12]. Yet DuPont's own scientists have concluded that polymer fume fever in humans is possible at 662°F, a temperature easily exceeded when a pan is preheated on a burner or placed beneath a broiler, or in a self-cleaning oven [14].

References

[1] Dale, Steve. 1995. “Fatal fumes; while people may not be in danger, the kitchen is no place for pet birds.” Chicago Tribune. March 26, 1995.

[2] Daniels, Mary. 1987. “Health debate; non-stick drip pans catch heat.” Chicago Tribune. March 29 1987.

[3] Stewart Bob. 2002. Personal communication with Dr. Jennifer Klein, Environmental Working Group. May 9, 2002.

[4] Stewart Bob. 2002. Personal email communication with Anne Morgan, Environmental Working Group. [date]

[5] Daniels, Mary. 1986. “Stove fumes killing cages birds; overheating coated pans can bring quick death,” Chicago Tribune. March 9, 1986.

[6] Hopkins, Steve 2001. “Bird deaths linked to Teflon coating.” Waikato Times. Hamilton, New Zealand. Independent Publishers Ltd. July 11, 2001. Copyright 2001 Independent Publishers Ltd.

[7] Kreger Theresa 2003. "Teflon deaths." Email correspondence to EWG. April 2003.

[8] Shively Carol. 2003. "PTFE fumes kill family's pet birds!" Accessed online at www.quakerville.com/qic/ezine/96Issue5/qteflon.htm. April 2003.

[9] Grahme 2003. "Teflon-related bird information." Email correspondence to Environmental Working Group. April 24 2003.

[10] Anonymous 2003. Email correspondence to Environmental Working Group. April 2003.

[11] Anonymous 2003. Email correspondence to Environmental Working Group. April 2003.

[12] DuPont 2003a. "Consumer products help: Cookware safety. Will cooking fumes generated while cooking with non-stick cookware harm people or animals, especially pet birds?" Accessed online May 10 2003 from http:/www.teflon.com.

[13] Boucher M, Ehmler TJ, Bermudez AJ. 2000. Polytetrafluoroethylene gas intoxication in broiler chickens. Avian Dis 44:449-53.

[14] Waritz, R.S. 1975. An industrial approach to evaluation of pyrolysis and combustion hazards. Environ Health Perspect 11:197-202.