By Callie Lyons, firstname.lastname@example.org
An environmental action group is petitioning the Consumer
Product Safety Commission to put warning labels on
Teflon-coated cookware, saying heated pans coated with the
substance will kill pet birds. The Environmental Working
Group this week urged the commission to take action on the
issue. The Washington, D.C.-based scientific research
organization says that in 2 to 5 minutes, with the use of a
typical household stove, non-stick coated pans reach
temperatures that produce toxins that kill birds.
The issue is relevant to Mid-Ohio Valley citizens because
the chemical with the trade name of C8 is a key ingredient in
the making of Teflon. It is the chemical C8 that has been the
subject of a class action lawsuit by citizens who live near
DuPont's Washington, W.Va., Works plant who say it is harmful
to their health.
Officials for DuPont, which makes Teflon, claim the
non-stick cookware is safe, if used correctly.
"We try to make sure consumers understand proper use. But,
how each manufacturer conveys information to the consumer is
up to them," said Cliff Webb, director of media relations for
DuPont, whose local plant is across the Ohio River from western Washington County.
Many bird lovers have known for years that Teflon kills
birds, said Bill Thompson III, editor of Birdwatchers Digest,
a magazine published in Marietta.
"It's a topic that is all over Internet discussion boards
for pet bird owners," Thompson said. "If you leave a Teflon
skillet on the stove, birds can inhale the fumes, and it can
Area naturalist and bird-owner Julie Zickafoose, of
Whipple, keeps her birds in a special room with good
ventilation, and not in the kitchen.
"Birds are one big lung," Zickafoose said. "They have five
or six air sacks and two lungs, which are all connected.
That's where they get their buoyancy in the air."
When Zickafoose uses non-stick pans for stovetop cooking,
she is careful to stand over the stove and turn the burner off
immediately. She closes off the birds' room and gets the kids
out of the area, as well, to protect the more delicate members
of her household from fumes.
Like many, her concern isn't limited to her pets.
In a press conference Wednesday, the environmental group's
scientists said they, too, are concerned about what the
phenomenon of Teflon fumes killing birds might mean for
"The metaphor is the canary in the coal mine," said EWG
president Ken Cook. The group is asking the consumer safety
commission to label non-stick coated cookware with a warning
about dangers to pet birds and possible human health effects.
Dr. Jennifer Klein, EWG chemist, tested a Teflon-coated
pan's temperature using a precision infrared thermometer to
determine how quickly the pan achieved enough heat to begin
"Our simple test showed DuPont is wrong when they tell
customers the pans won't degrade except under extreme misuse.
Actually, the pans started emitting toxic particles and
chemicals quite quickly at temperatures within normal use on a
typical stovetop," Klein said.
Others believe the environmental group is attempting to
scare the public.
Terrence Scanlon, a former chairman of the Consumer Product
Safety Commission appointed by President Ronald Reagan, said,
"There is no new credible science in the charges being leveled
against Teflon by the Environmental Working Group."
"I think the government has more serious concerns than
canaries kept in a kitchen and suffering from fumes," Scanlon
said. "The only thing truly toxic in this story is EWG's
overheated rhetoric which is designed to generate headlines
and create public anxiety. The dangers to small birds and
humans from the extreme overheating of Teflon-coated pans has
been well known for many years and incidents are very rare."
Webb points to information that DuPont co-authored with a
veterinarian 10 years ago as an example of the company's
ongoing commitment to recognize the importance of consumer
awareness. "Making a Safe Home for Your Bird" is available
online at the DuPont Web site, along with other consumer
"You've probably heard stories of old-time miners who used
canaries in the mines to detect dangerous gases because birds
would show the effects of gas much sooner than humans," the
guide says. "Fumes from everyday cooking can be harmful to
your bird - particularly smoke from burning foods. Nonstick
cookware can also emit fumes harmful to birds if cookware is
accidentally heated to high temperatures, exceeding
approximately 500 degrees Fahrenheit, well above the
temperatures needed for frying or baking."
DuPont recommends never keeping a pet bird in the kitchen.
Despite the corporation's consumer advice, EWG researchers
say consumers don't know that Teflon can kill birds.
"If it is such a well-documented phenomenon, why don't
people know about it?" asked Lauren Sucher, EWG communications
Brian Stollar of Fish & Stuff, at Third and Putnam
streets in Marietta, was not aware of the danger non-stick
cookware poses to birds, even though he works in a pet shop.
"My mother has had birds for 10 years and keeps them on a
dryer in the kitchen," Stollar said. "We've never had a
problem. My aunt keeps her birds in the kitchen."
"But, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the
big question," Stollar said. "If it does that to birds, what
does it do to people?"
DuPont officials have confirmed that exposure to the fumes
has been known to cause a condition known as polymer fume
fever in humans.
"Fumes can cause flu-like symptoms," Webb said. "It's a
temporary situation that abates in a very short time with a
little fresh air. Ventilation is extremely important. There
are no long-term health effects. And, it can be avoided with
proper cooking techniques."
But, EWG scientists say there are cases of polymer fume
fever documented in pet owners, who have lost birds to Teflon
fume exposure, that have lasted as long as a month.
DuPont has been working with C8, the key ingredient in
Teflon, for 50 years and claims there are no human health
hazards associated with the chemical. The U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency is conducting a public meeting in June to
gather more information about the chemical for further
evaluation of toxicity to humans.
"We are quite confident when the Consumer Product Safety
Commission looks at our data DuPont will have to label that
risk," Cook said.