PTFE is deadly to parrots!

PTFE is polytetrafluoroethylene, a miracle plastic most commonly known from its use in non-stick coatings on cooking utensils. PTFE is one of the greatest hazards to birds kept in our homes. Even at normal cooking temperatures, PTFE can release gases that are highly toxic to pet birds. And then there are other products that release gases at normal operating temperatures.

I hear you asking, "How will I know that I have a problem?" You will know when you find your birds dead. Read the sad stories further along in this article. Once your bird shows signs of trouble, there is no hope. Think of this as "nerve gas for parrots." If you find one bird in trouble, the thing to do is get the other birds out of the house into fresh air as fast as you can. There is no rememdy, the only approach to this problem is prevention.

I will put my conclusions up front, since not everyone will want to read this entire article (although I strongly recommend that you do so, and follow some of the many links). I will not have any PTFE cooking products in my home! There it is plain and simple! I know myself too well. As one person said, "In my house you know that the food is done when the smoke alarm goes off." I have been cooking with stainless steel for years, and it is a breeze to clean unless you really burn something. I also have a well seasoned cast iron skillet that is our household workhorse. The risk of cooking on non-stick utensils if you have birds in your home is totally unacceptable.

Read on if you don't believe it because there are many more hazards than just cookware!!

PTFE is sold under innumerable trade names: Teflon®, Silverstone®, Calphalon® (interestingly, the old and very expensive Calphalon® was safe, as it used heavy anodizing (aluminum oxide) as the non-stick coating, but now they are capitalizing on the Calphalon® name and selling plain old cheap PTFE non-stick coated cookware as well, at an attractive lower price. They even have a product that seems to combine the safe heavy anodizing with PTFE based non-stick.) Even Gore-Tex® is specially prepared PTFE, although it is hard to imagine clothing with Gore-Tex® could wind up being heated enough to outgas (maybe in the clothes dryer?)

Just for the record, not all non-stick cookware uses PTFE, there are apparently some silicone based non-PTFE products out there. The trick is telling which is which beyond a shadow of a doubt. (It will be stainless steel for this boy - there won't be any questions in my mind then.)

People exposed to fumes emitted by overheated PTFE have been known to become ill, the malady is known as Polymer Fume fever.
Flu like symptoms are reported.

Lots of unlikely things now have PTFE: toasters, self-cleaning ovens, bulbs for heat lamps, hair dryers, irons, bread-makers, pop corn poppers, and space heaters; just to name a few.

And don't think you are safe just because you have deluded yourself into thinking you are the perfect cook, and will never allow your pots and pans to burn dry. Utensils with damaged coatings release toxic fumes at ordinary temperatures. Apparently the torn edges of the damaged coating emit a lot more stuff than an intact coating. Anything that goes into the oven (think cookie sheet or muffin tin or cake pan), will get heated to the 400 degrees or so that is known to cause problems.

And inquiring minds want to know -- exactly what is released when PTFE is heated? The fumes contain gases such as HF (hydrofluoric acid), carbonylfluoride, perfluoroisobutylene, and other complex reactive radicals, but the main contributor to toxicity seems to be ultrafine particles of PTFE itself! See the reference below where these are documented to kill healthy rats (does this worry anyone?) in amazingly low concentrations.

The DuPont web site seriously downpedals the danger, implying that the danger from PTFE is no more than from any other cooking fumes (such as overheated grease and oil). They at least mention hazards to birds due to cooking fumes in their Teflon® FAQ. Du Pont says that temperatures of 500F (260C) are necessary to break down PTFE and release fumes, but other studies document toxic release at temperatures of 450F and lower. I have seen mention of toxic release at temperatures below 300F, in particular from cookware with scratches and damage.

A recent addition to this article is this link to a detailed and informative article entitled: Canaries in the Kitchen, Teflon Toxicosis is deadly to pet birds. Are we at risk?

I was originally inclined to give DuPont the benefit of the doubt, but then I found some accounts of them attempting to intimidate people who were mentioning that products containing Teflon® could harm pet birds. A quote from the following excellent article is here for the record:

"As such, we ask that you remove all references to DuPont Teflon® from your internet website by week day, November XX, 2002. Please confirm in writing your compliance to this request so we can note our records"

Clearly this threat is blatant intimidation and as well as misrepresentation. (This is America and there is rumored to be some kind of statement in our consitution guaranteeing freedom of speech?!)

You can certainly use the word Teflon® as long as you put the ® symbol next to the word to indicate it is a DuPont trademark, and you should also mention that it isn't just the Teflon® brand, but all products containing PTFE that are severely hazardous. Please note that this is undeniably the truth!! There is nothing at all more or less dangerous about Teflon® than any other PTFE product. Any product made with PTFE is a serious hazard. Teflon® is simply a specific trade name for PTFE.

Here is a tragic story of maybe 10 minutes exposure to fumes released from a space heater with PTFE. This is reprinted from the Mid-American Cage Bird Club's newsletter, as quoted on this worthy site. We can only guess what "product name they can't use anymore" and who badgered them into not using it.

Dawn's family was preparing for dinner one evening using the electric skillet. An electric space heater was also running in the area since it was a chilly evening. (Store that; it's important). She then noticed that her Ringneck was not visible in his cage. She had seen him playing there just 10 minutes before but she checked anyway just to make sure he was still in the cage and hadn't gotten out. She was horrified to find the bird lying dead on the floor of the cage. A moment later she heard a scream from a daughter in another room and rushed there to find her two Amazons dead. She then ran to her Blue and Gold Macaw's cage to find that bird nearly dead. ......

An out-of-state avian vet returned the call about the same time the Blue and Gold went into convulsions. The vet immediately asked about (product name I can't use anymore) and Dawn told him they had been using an electric skillet, but it was in good condition and on low heat. He then asked if there was an electric space heater running in the area. When told there was, he said, "Shut it off quick!"

And here is another sad story, to document that this is a real danger. Please note that I don't present these stories to be sensational, but to slap anybody up the side of the head who doesn't think this is serious! This story was foolishly posted on the web as a word document, so you who aren't loyal to microsoft should be thankful that I am presenting an excerpt here.

The unthinkable has happened. A beautiful Double Yellow-headed Amazon hatched in our home a few years ago and sold to an intelligent and caring parrot lover, has died. Water was put on the stove to boil but then there were a few minutes of distraction. The water boiled away. There was no odor; there was no smoke; the windows were open. There seemed to be no cause for concern, but soon the beloved young parrot was having trouble breathing. He was rushed to the avian veterinarian, but no treatment could save him. Once polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) fumes reach a bird's lungs, nothing can be done.

This was a gentle, delightful young parrot who should have had many more decades to learn and sing and fly. He was loved by me and adored by his new family, including kids and grandparents who all delighted in his intelligence and bravado. I know that the horrible moment will always be a heartbreaking memory for the one whose moment of inattention had fatal consequences. I too, am having much trouble processing this unfortunate reality... a TOTALLY AVOIDABLE death. Death by PTFE poisoning is a tragedy that happens all too frequently, even when owners are well-informed and well-intentioned.

An article by Joanie Doss, called The Silent Killer is worth reading, and the following excerpt documents the danger from PTFE coated heat lamp bulbs.

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.

Here is another sad article about someone who lost 4 of his 8 birds when he was running his self cleaning oven.

A very good factual article was written by Paul M. Gibbons DVM from Niles Animal Hospital and Bird Medical Center in Niles Illinois. You can also visit the original link or grab a PDF version of this article.

A footnote at the end of the above article mentions that a product known as "Carpet Fresh" has been responsible for the death of 13 small vets and should be avoided.

And here is yet another article, this time from Old World Aviaries written by Darrel K. Styles DVM.

For those of you who don't mind a lot of technical language, read the following excerpt from an article by Oberdorster G, Gelein RM, Ferin J, and Weiss B. tha appeared in the journal: Inhalation Toxicology, 1995 Jan-Feb 7(1): 111-24 It discusses toxic effects on rats (mammals, not birds) and mentions that ultrafine particles, not gases were the culprits!

our most recent studies with thermodegradation products of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) we found that freshly generated PTFE fumes containing singlet ultrafine particles (median diameter 26 nm) were highly toxic to rats at inhaled concentrations of 0.7-1.0 x 10(6) particles/cm3, resulting in acute hemorrhagic pulmonary inflammation and death after 10-30 min of exposure.

We also found that work performance of the rats in a running wheel was severely affected by PTFE fume exposure. These results confirm reports from other laboratories of the highly toxic nature of PTFE fumes, which cannot be attributed to gas-phase components of these fumes such as HF, carbonylfluoride, or perfluoroisobutylene, or to reactive radicals. The calculated mass concentration of the inhaled ultrafine PTFE particles in our studies was less than 60 micrograms/m3, a very low value to cause mortality in healthy rats.

And here are a bunch of references for anyone who wants to dig around in the library for more hard facts.

Anonymous. European Chemical News, (68) #1779, 1997, p. 26.

Boucher, M., et al. "Polytetrafluoroethylene gas intoxication in broiler chickens." Avian Diseases, (44) 2000, pp. 449-53.

Ellis, et al. "Thermolysis of fluoropolymers as a potential source of halogenated organic acids in the environment." Nature, (412) July 19, 2001.

Forbes, N.A. and D. Jones. PTFE toxicity in birds (letter). Vet Record, (140) #19, May 10, 1997, p. 512.

LaBonde, J. "Pet Avian Toxicology" in 1988 Proceedings, Association of Avian Veterinarians, pp. 159-173.

Lee, C.H., et al. "Fatal pulmonary oedema after inhalation of fumes from polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE)." European Respiratory Journal, (10) 1997, pp.1408-1411.

Ramelmeier, J.L. & J.P. Davidson. "Fatalities in four psittacines, as a result of normal operation of the cleaning cycle in a polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) coated oven." Pesticides, People and Nature (1) 2003.

An article: inhalation toxicology, 1995 Jan-Feb 7(1): 111-24 by Oberdorster G, Gelein RM, Ferin J, Weiss B.

Have any comments? Questions? Drop me a line!

Uncle Tom's parrot pages / September 27, 2003