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Nonstick Cookware & birds do not mix

By Joanie Doss

It makes no sound and has no smell. Polytetraflouethylene (Teflon® fumes) is deadly for your birds. A bird's size and lung capacity make him more sensitive to the toxins in our environment. It was for this reason that coal miners would take a canary down into the mines with them. If the bird became sick or died, they knew it was dangerous for them to be in that mine.

Polytetraflouethylene is known by the brand name Teflon® and most bird owners realize that using products that have this coating cannot safely be used around birds. However, there are many other brand names that are also polytetraflouethylene. Some of these are: Silverstone®, Fluron®, Supra®, Excalibur®, Greblon®, Xylon®, Duracote®, Resistal®, Autograph® and T-Fal® are just a few. These coatings are used primarily to keep things from sticking.

The San Antonio Zoo in Texas lost 21 birds in an outdoor aviary awhile back. Their death was caused when the birds gathered by lights that the zoo had installed so that the birds could warm themselves in an outdoor aviary. The bulbs had been coated with Polytetraflouethylene. Phillips standard red heating lamps have a coating of Teflon®. The FDA now requires that bulbs be given a Teflon® coating as a shatter shield when used around food. If you are planning to use a light to help warm a brooder or keep a sick bird warm, look it over carefully and read the box to see if Teflon® has been used. If it does not have a box or does not say it has a special coating, check the bulb itself. The Teflon® coated ones have a bubbly or cloudy surface. They may use one of the other brand names for Polytetraflouethylene so remember that just because it doesn't say Teflon® it doesn't mean that it is safe to use around birds.

PTFE was discovered in 1941. Basically this is a plastic. Teflon® is the trademark for a tetrafluoroeghylene resin with a high resistance to heat and corrosive chemicals. It was originally used in wire insulation, cable spacers, gaskets and in other applications in the chemical industry. It then became popular as a non-stick coating for cook ware.

In 1951 the first case of human suffering from tetrafluoroethylene problems was reported. It produces flu like symptoms in humans. The tetrafluoroethylene lingers long after the product has been removed. It can remain in carpeting and draperies for some time.

Birds die an extremely painful and agonizing death when exposed to these fumes. This product may not kill all the birds at the same time. The toxins travel on air currants. The currant can by-pass one bird and come in contact with another. The fumes swirl on these air currants similar to the way that smoke would. The bird does not have to be in the room where the fumes originate as they can be carried into various parts of the house on these air currants. Smaller birds can take less of the fumes than a larger bird, but even a small amount of exposure can kill a large bird.

When the report first circulated about Teflon® causing bird deaths, it was thought that very high heat was needed to release the deadly fumes. Now there are reports that temperatures as low as 285 degrees can cause death to birds.

Teflon® starts emitting fumes from the start of heating. It does not have to be a high temperature or for an extended length of time to cause death to your bird. Small birds breathing these fumes for only a few seconds took as long as 24 hours to die.

Many people think that Teflon® is only dangerous if the pan burns. This danger lurks in other products besides cookware. These do not have to operate at a high temperature to cause damage to your birds. I have listed some products that use polytetraflouethylene. Not all of these use this coating nor are these the only places that it is used. Carefully read all products that you buy before you use them around your bird. If in doubt, call up the manufacturer and asked what he has used in the product.

Some Products That Use Polytetraflouethylene Heat lamps
  • Portable heaters
  • Sole plates on irons
  • Ironing board covers
  • Burners on stove tops
  • Drip pans for burners
  • Broiler pans
  • Griddles
  • Many cooking utensils
  • Woks
  • Waffle makers
  • Electric skillets
  • Deep fryers, crock pots
  • Hot air popcorn poppers
  • Coffee makers
  • Bread makers
  • Non-stick rolling pins
  • Lollipop molds
  • Corkscrews
  • Never-Stick-Stainless Steel
  • Stockpots
  • Roasters
  • Non-stick gingerbread molds
  • Pizza pans
  • Tortilla presses

©1995 Joanie Doss. This article originally appeared in The Alaska Bird Club Newsletter and is reprinted here with permission from the author. Please do not reprint this article in any form without the written consent of Joanie Doss.

More Information available on the internet...

Environmental Working Group(EWG)
News articles and general information on the dangers of PTFE.
Canaries in the Kitchen: Teflon Toxicosis
Canaries in the Kitchen: Teflon Toxicosis: DuPont spin

TeflonTM poisoning: The Silent Killer by Dr. Darrel K. Styles---

The Nature Chest Bird Shop --
A news letter on the dangers of PTFE from someone who has had first hand experience with it.

The degradation products of PTFE have been known to be extremely toxic to humans for 50 years. See: Harris, D.K., _The Lancet_ 1008 (1951).

There are many Toxin Alert Stories at http://www.parrotparrot.com/birdhealth/teflon.htm

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Duff P. "Acute inhalant toxicosis of cagebirds." Veterinary Record,1997, V. 141, No. 4, p. 107.

Ehrsam H. ["Fatal poisoning of small pet birds following accidental overheating of cooking pans lined with polytetrafluorethylene."] Schweiz Arch Tierheilkd (Switzerland), 1969, V. 111, No. 4, p. 181-186.

Forbes NA, Jones D. "PTFE toxicity in birds." Veterinary Record, 1997, V. 140, N. 19, p. 512.

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Stoltz JH, Galey F, Johnson B. "Sudden death in ten psittacine birds associated with the operation of a self-cleaning oven." Veterinary and Human Toxicology, 1992, Vol. 34, No. 5, p. 420-421.

Temple WA, Edwards IR, Bell SJ. "Poly (polymer) fume fever - two fatal cases (cage birds)." New Zealand Veterinary Journal, 1985, Vol. 33, No. 3, p. 30.

Temple WA, Edwards IR, Bell SJ. "Poly fume fever - two fatal cases (poisoning of Psittaciformes by fumes from heated teflon saucepans)." Australian Veterinary Practitioner, 1985, Vol. 15, No. 2, p. 66.

Wells RE. "Fatal toxicosis in pet birds caused by an overheated cooking pan lined with polytetrafluoroethylene." Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 1983, Vol. 182, No. 11, p. 1248-1250.

Wells RE, Slocombe RF, Trapp AL. "Acute toxicosis of budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulatus) caused by pyrolysis products from heated polytetrafluoroethylene: clinical study." American Journal of Veterinary Research, 1982, Vol. 43, No. 7, p. 1238-1242.

Wells RE, Slocombe RF. "Acute toxicosis of budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulatus) caused by pyrolysis products from heated polytetrafluoroethylene: microscopic study." American Journal of Veterinary Medicine, Vol. 43, No. 7, p. 1243-1248.

Disclaimer: Gore-tex®, SilverStone®and Teflon®are registered trademarks of Dupont Chemical Company. Stainmaster®and Scotchgard®are the registered trademarks of 3M. Guardsman®® is a registered trademark of Lilly Industries. Dupont Chemical Company, 3M, and Lilly Industries do not sponsor or endorse this page.