Canary in a Coalmine or Parakeet in your Kitchen?

In days of old, caged canaries would be carried by mining workers down into the tunnels with them. If dangerous gases such as methane or carbon monoxide leaked into the mine-shaft, the gases would kill the canary before killing the miners. Sad for the canaries, but an effective safety device for the miners.

Today you can use your own pet bird in a similar way. How? Well, if you use Teflon coated pans in your kitchen and they are heated to just the right temperature, they will emit poisonous gas. Its called “Teflon toxicosis” where the lungs of exposed birds hemorrhage and fill with fluid, leading to suffocation. Just bring Tweedy near enough to your stove so that he can breathe the same air that you do. If he keels over, you know you have heated up your pan too much.

DuPont on its website, acknowledges that these fumes can also sicken people, a condition called “polymer fume fever.” Please do know that they state that “normal” household heating of these pans will not pose any danger whatsoever to you or Tweedy. Just don’t put an empty pan on a burner on high to pre-heat it, for example.

Also one should also not ingest tiny bits of scraped off Teflon, as Teflon is a polymer made from fluoride which is a known hazardous chemical and poison.

Alas, there does not seem to be a corresponding warning idiom for actual consumption of Teflon particles that would serve as an early warning signal in the way that birds are useful for the gases.

If having a bird in the kitchen doesn’t work for you, and you don’t want to wonder about unseen ingested particles, you could just simply prepare your meals with cast iron or glass or stainless steel.

For more information on popular polymers, including how “stain resistant” carpets and clothing could possibly transfer these chemicals into your body, see this article at Tuberose.

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4 Responses to Canary in a Coalmine or Parakeet in your Kitchen?

  1. angelvalleywed says:

    Another plus with using cast iron pans is the…IRON! John has a history of iron deficiency (hereditary) which was no doubt exacerbated by the fact that we don’t eat red meat. Once we started using cast iron skillets and a cast iron griddle, voila! His iron levels are just what they should be. No supplements or menu changes required.

  2. Susan Aono says:

    My son had a lovebird as a gift & when it suddenly died I was curious as it was only about a year old. When I read this, it struck me that they use old Teflon pans for cooking. As newly weds w/ a limited budget, people gave them old cookware, etc. I think I’ll go over & see if they’re still using the Teflon pans. Thank you for this heads up.

  3. Hi Jo,
    I love my cast iron, especially the really old pans. No iron deficiencies here either. Thanks for the comment.

    Susan, check that link Tuberose
    , its appalling what chemicals are used and released from those pans…”In two to five minutes on a conventional stovetop, cookware coated with Teflon and other non-stick surfaces can exceed temperatures at which the coating breaks apart and emits toxic particles and gases linked to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pet bird deaths and an unknown number of human illnesses each year, according to tests commissioned by Environmental Working Group (EWG).”

  4. Sara says:

    Because there’s so much misinformation out there about the Teflon® brand, I’m not surprised that you are concerned. I’m a representative of DuPont though, and hope you’ll let me share some information with you and your readers, so that everyone can make truly informed decisions.

    Because birds have extremely sensitive respiratory systems, bird owners must take precautions to protect them. Cooking fumes, smoke and odors that have little or no effect on people can seriously sicken and even kill birds, often quite quickly. Cooking fumes from any type of unattended or overheated cookware, not just non-stick, can damage a bird’s lungs with alarming speed. This is why bird owners should take steps to protect their pets, such as keeping their birds out of the kitchen, never leaving cookware unattended, never allowing pots and pans to overheat, and making sure that their kitchen is properly ventilated at all times.

    It should be noted that butter, fats, and cooking oils will begin to smoke at approximately 400°F (204°C), producing fumes that can irritate eyes, nose, and throat and possibly cause respiratory distress. DuPont non-stick coatings will not begin to deteriorate in appearance or performance until the temperature of the cookware reaches about 500°F

    Regulatory agencies, consumer groups and health associations all have taken a close look at the Teflon® brand. This article highlights what they found — the bottom line is that you can use Teflon® non-stick without worry.

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