May 15, 2003

Canaries in the Kitchen: Tips for bird owners & the rest of us

Bird owners should avoid non-stick cookware. It is not enough to keep the bird in a room of the house far from the kitchen. In numerous cases, Teflon kitchen fumes have killed birds far from the source, in other rooms of the house. Bird owners should also avoid other heated appliances coated with non-stick surfaces, including waffle irons, griddles, stovetops and ovens, space heaters, irons and ironing board covers. Many of these are also implicated in deaths of pet birds by Teflon toxicosis.

What about the rest of us?

Even if you don't have pet birds, Teflon toxicosis is something to be aware of and, in our view, concerned about. There is absolutely no doubt that when heated to temperatures well within normal cooking range, for instance, Teflon and products with other non-stick PFC coatings emit toxic fumes that can be harmful to people. They can make you and your family sick. The long term effects of routine exposure to Teflon fumes, and "fume fever" itself, have not been adequately studied.

Our advice: phase out the use of Teflon or non-stick cookware in your home. In fact, avoid any kitchen equipment that contains Teflon or other non-stick components that are heated to high temperature during use. It's not always easy to find out about Teflon components in ovens, space heaters or other devices, and in fact, some bird owners were reassured their products were Teflon-free, only to find out the truth when their birds were killed. That's why we want the government to require labels on such products. In the meantime, you should inquire before purchase or continued use.

In addition to avoiding risks to you and your family, phasing out Teflon and other non-stick products that might be heated to high temperatures will help reduce the impacts of the "PFC" economy on human health and wild animals. (See our Web site, PFCs: Global Contaminants).