Earlier this week, I heard about yet another parrot death following exposure to the toxic fumes of non-stick cookware. This death is particularly frustrating because this owner HAD heard the warnings, but didn’t take them seriously.
It astonishes me that some people still aren’t aware of this danger (for both birds AND humans) in this day and age, and it makes me wonder what we are doing wrong that the information is not reaching everyone.
But, what are you to do when someone DOES have the knowledge and chooses to disregard it? For anyone who thinks this is overcautious drama, please read the next paragraph very carefully:
If your bird is exposed to the toxic PTFE or PFOA fumes emitted by certain non-stick coatings like teflon, it is likely to die an excrutiating death as it suffocates in the fluids its lungs rapidly produce to protect themselves. The vast majority of birds die from acute edematous pneumonia before they reach the vet. Those with minor exposure that manage to survive suffer with lifelong health repercussions from the event.
This matter must be taken very seriously and information must be shared so that no more birds have to die in this horrible manner.
WHAT ARE PTFEs?
PTFE stands for polytetrafluoroethylene. It is known by the brand name Teflon. Exposure to PTFE fumes causes flu-like symptoms in humans and almost certain death in birds because of their sensitive respiratory systems.
A big misconception is that Teflon only offgasses at high temperatures. The manufacturers of Teflon (DuPont) originally defended their product by saying that one had to leave a pan on the burner over high heat in order for it to offgas. This claim has been proven false: they offgas at lower temperatures, enough to kill a bird.
The Environmental Working Group (in 2003) stated that nonstick coatings “could reach 700 degrees Fahrenheit in as little as 3-5 minutes, releasing 15 toxic gases and chemicals, including two carcinogens.”
WHAT ARE PFOAs?
PFOA stands for perfluorooctanoic acid (also known as C-8), a petroleum based product. It is a carcenogenic chemical used to bond the nonstick coating to the pan. Low levels of PFOA can be found in the blood stream of 9 out of 10 Americans and in their newborns.
The DuPont company, again in trouble with the EPA, was fined with the largest penalty in the agency’s history ($10.25 million) for holding back information about the toxicity of PFOA for many years. DuPont recently announced their intentions to phase out PFOA by 2015. But they haven’t proven to be very forthcoming about their practices so far, so I wont be trusting their intentions any time soon.
WHAT IS “GREEN” COOKWARE?
Green cookware, also known as “eco-friendly”, is cookware that is safe for the environment (including the environment in your home). Green is a HUGE word in the marketing world today and many things are referred to as “green” without having any real right to that claim. Buyer beware.
Most “greenware” metal pans are hard anodized aluminum pans that have under gone an electrochemical process that makes their surface very slick and resists foods sticking to it. It sounds scary but is perfectly safe. Its surface is highly durable – even moreso than stainless steel.
Other common “greenware” is ceramic or silicon based. Silicon is a natural material that makes up 28% of the earth’s crust. It is processed into a coating that is basically glass. While I feel that it is likely quite safe, there are claims that it melts at temperatures lower than those listed that it can handle. I have no real evidence of this fact, however.
Ceramic coating is the basis for Thermolon, and the coating used in “GreenPan”. The jury is still out on this product. Thermolon initially claimed the use of nanotechnolgy in its product recipe, but they later denied the claim blaming it on “over-enthusiastic copywriters” who thought it sounded cool. I guess no one in the company is reading the press releases – OR they are just another manufacturer which cant be trusted. Take your pick. A few recent studies have questioned the safety of the use of nanotech in cookware, perhaps that had something to do with their need to come clean.
The bottom line with “green” cookware is that it is still evolving and we will be learning as we go. We have options available now that may not be perfected just yet, but aren’t going to kill your bird. If non-stick makes you nervous, stainless steel, cast iron and glass are available as options.
When you are selecting a non-stick brand, make sure it is listed as PTFE AND PFOA free. And let’s not let any more birds die because of our bad choices.
The following is a link from ewg.org files that enlarges the teflon temperature chart: http://www.ewg.org/files/infographic_thermometer.pdf. (Thanks, Pat!)
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.