For over 40 years scientists have known that the fumes from hot non-stick surfaces can kill birds such as canaries. So just how dangerous are they to you? Several studies have been conducted into health concerns surrounding Teflon, the coating invented and patented by DuPont. The results have been disturbing, if somewhat inconclusive. While the lethal effect on birds is well documented and not in dispute, much of the other evidence tends to be anecdotal at best. And some of it is downright confusing. For example, the chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is usually cited as the villain of the piece and the root cause of the illnesses that have allegedly appeared in some users.
However DuPont claims Teflon doesn't contain this chemical, although it is used in the manufacturing process. Whatever the truth of that may be, it's certainly accurate to say that there have been a number of health issues emerging in the community immediately adjacent to the DuPont factory in Parkersburg, West Virginia; more about that later. There also seems to be some disagreement among authorities as to the temperatures at which the bird-lethal fumes are given off. These are quoted as ranging from 285°F to 475° and more. Since both these figures are well within the smoke points of edible oils such as avocado and safflower, keeping your budgie in or near the kitchen is definitely not good for his health.
But what about your health? Human victims have complained of flu-like symptoms, some leading to respiratory complications, after using non-stick cookware. Some reactions have been reported as "severe"". At least one report suggests that the fumes may be cancer inducing after prolonged exposure, although none suggest that Teflon itself is harmful if swallowed. If the fumes are harmful to humans, then there is much more to consider than just kitchen items.
Some brands of light bulb, portable heaters and even Gore Tex clothing are all produced using PFOA, the same reactive agent used in the case of Teflon. Not surprisingly, DuPont denies there is any problem; but this hasn't prevented the company from paying out millions of dollars in compensation, not only to their employees but to 50,000 people living in the vicinity of the Parkersburg factory. You have to ask yourself "why?". Complaints have included accusations of water pollution, high infant mortality rates and a greater than normal incidence of cancer among the local population. DuPont has never admitted liability in any of these cases. While the jury still seems to be out on the safety or otherwise of Teflon in the home, even DuPont's own experts advise caution when using non-stick items, particularly with regard to high cooking temperatures.
And this is something you can rely on: when Teflon and similar coatings are heated to a certain point, fumes are given off. These fumes will kill pet birds that inhale them. It's therefore reasonable to suppose that other forms of life may also be at risk.
You can get more information on the Teflon debate from this address http://www.ewg.org/reports/toxicteflon/es.php For a definitive article on the effects of Teflon fumes on birds, visit this site http://www.theaviary.com/teflon.
Michael Sheridan was formerly head chef of the Pierre Victoire restaurant in London's West End, specializing in French cuisine. An Australian, he is a published author on cooking matters and runs a free membership club and cooking course for busy home cooks at http://thecoolcook.com