Photo: Leicestershire Parrot Club. Companion birds must not be kept in the kitchen where they can be exposed to Teflon fumes, advises Lynda. Symptoms of PTFE toxicosis include wheezing and seizures


All birdkeepers should be aware of the threats that everyday household items can present to their birds, advises Lynda Wesson. She discusses the hazards of Teflon, in particular, and how exposure to it can have fatal consequences if symptoms are not detected in time


DURING the summer, my local society, Leicestershire Parrot Club, held a meeting discussing the dangers our birds face from toxic substances created by the use of everyday items around the house. We focused on polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), which is more commonly known as Teflon.

PTFE was discovered by accident on April 6, 1938, by American chemist Roy Plunkett. Employed by the DuPont company, he was conducting research into alternative materials for cooling refrigerators. During one experiment, he inserted tetrafluoroethene gas into canisters and left them overnight. When he returned the next morning, the gas had gone and only a white sticky substance remained. This new matter was named PTFE (Teflon).

In the early 1960s, a new revolution was introduced into the UK – non-stick pans! These were coated with the now-patented Teflon and did exactly what they promised: food did not stick to the pan. Nowadays, this chemical compound is found in many household items, products and cosmetics.

PTFE toxicosis

Symptoms to look out for in birds that have suffered exposure to PTFE include:

■ Gasping for air/difficulty breathing.

■ Wheezing.

■ Incoordination.

■ Weakness/anxious or having seizures.

If any of those occur, take the birds outside, if possible, or open the window because they will need access to as much clean air as possible. Also, make an emergency visit to the vet.

Polymer fume fever (metal fume fever) can affect humans with flu-like symptoms. Chills, headache, fever, tightness in the chest and a mild cough are all symptoms that appear four to eight hours after exposure. All this sounds serious; and it most definitely is for our birds, too. They really don’t stand much chance of survival after exposure, so the best thing to do is prevention. This means any Teflon cookware should not be overheated beyond 350°C (662°F). Cooking with pans should be safe to use if there is no damage to the surface of the coating. Any damaged pans should be discarded.

What contains Teflon?

Cooking pans, coffee makers, woks, a popular brand of grill, panini makers, irons (and some ironing board covers), hair straighteners, non-stick slow cookers, non-stick pizza pans and baking trays, bread makers, waffle makers, some air coolers and heaters, to name just a few.

The list is lengthy, but here are a few more examples that contain Teflon: a stain and durable water repellent on a sofa, shoe spray, WD-40, ink, weatherproof clothing, microwave popcorn bags, light bulbs and wiper blades. Some cosmetics, such as mascara, even contain a level of this substance.

During World War II, Teflon was used on aircraft nose cones to make bullets and bombs. Nowadays, it is used in robotics and computer equipment, airport and stadium roofs and on spacecraft.

That list is not complete and there are many more household items and sprays that contain Teflon. If you are not sure, then do not use. However, it seems that the main culprits for causing death to our birds are non-stick pans when they are overheated. Therefore, it is best not to have your birds in the kitchen when cooking to eliminate any risk. How do you recycle this product? Recommended recycling is in a landfill, so could this substance be a potential problem in the future?

Lynda Wesson is the chairlady of Leicestershire Parrot Club.


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