How I killed my African Grey Parrot

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This story starts back in October of 2001. I was pregnant with my oldest daughter and I had just moved into a new house and bought myself my first set of new pots and pans. I was thrilled. Everything matched. I had lids to everything. I couldn’t be happier. I had a bright, open airy kitchen. It had a decent sized eat in kitchen area large enough for a table, bar stools for the counter and my massive sized bird cage that housed my African Grey Parrot Henry and a smaller Nanday Conure companion bird, Aboo that I eventually moved into the kitchen too. We bought Henry as a featherless, fresh out of his egg, baby bird. We visited him often while he was in the baby bird grow nursery (before he was able to be taken home) and fed him and held him. It was truly a unique experience to feed a small, wrinkly, baby bird. Aboo was a little older when we got him but still very young. He was under a year old.

Both birds were truly fascinating and entertaining. Henry was very vocal. He had an impressive 4 letter vocabulary. He could mimick the sound of the door opening and closing to such a degree of accuracy you would come from other parts of the house to see who opened the door. I answered phones that weren’t ringing and went to turn off faucets that weren’t on. Yes, he was that good. If he heard it once, he could imitate it perfectly. He had an amazing ability to construct his own sentences based on prior conversations that he had heard.

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Aboo was becoming vocal. He could say his name, kisses and make the kissing sound, he could say ‘Mike’ (Mike, my husband was his human) and I love you. The people we bought both of them from owned an amazing shop where they bred a hand full of birds a year, held educational bird motivated events and housed birds who needed a safe place to live. Every time we took the birds in for their wing, nail and break grooming they were impressed with the level of vocals Aboo had because they had never seen one who was speaking so clearly, so many words and at such a young age.

Almost immediately after getting my new cookware Henry began to get sick. He had been seen by numerous Avian Specialists. He was unable to perch. He would sit at the bottom of the cage with his feet curled. If you tried to put him on the perches, he would fall to the bottom of the cage. If you put your hand down for him, he normally would step on to your hand and now he could no longer do this. His mouth remained open all of the time and he sounded like he was weezing.

Dispite everything in my power, multiple vets and numerous courses of treatment Henry wasn’t getting better, he was getting worse. I didn’t know what to do. Aboo seemed to be fine.

Early the next morning, Halloween morning, when I had gone over to uncover the birds, Aboo wasn’t on his perch and I climbed up on a chair and looked in. He was dead on the bottom of his cage. Henry was laying on his side on the bottom of his cage. I took both birds to the Emergency Vet. Henry was on the verge of death, there was no denying that. The vet came out and took us in the exam room and the first thing she said is “What kind of pots and pans do you have?” Honestly, It was a bit of an odd question to me. My bird is dying and she is asking about my cookware. She asked if it was Teflon Coated/Non-Stick pans. It was. She told me that it was the classic signs of Avian Teflon Poisoning. I was crushed. Why hadn’t I known this? Why hadn’t there been a warning on my pots and pans? Why didn’t anyone tell me? Now what is going to happen to Henry? That was simple. He was going to die. It was just a matter of how and when. I had two options. Let him go on his own or the vet would end his suffering. He was definitely suffering. The choice wasn’t hard to make. She came back ready to put him down. A vet tech came and took my son, who was 6 years old at the time, to another room to visit with some kittens. Before she was able to do anything, he went on his own. He died. His heart stopped.

I didn’t even want to go home because I knew there would be silence in the house and I couldn’t escape the reality that both of the birds were dead. I couldn’t even compute what had just happened. These were just as much of a family pet as a cat or dog is and my pans killed them. 

What basically happened is that birds are particularly sensitive to the airborne gas emission created by the Teflon Coating inside of the pans being heated and create a gas that is supposedly harmless to humans but  toxic to birds – even in small dosages due to their high metabolic rate and unique anatomy (high levels of oxygen are emitted to their musculature system in order to fly). The toxins cause severe edematous pneumonia – where a bird’s lungs quick fill with fluid which is then leaked into the airways.

I was baffled at how Henry had been sick for so long and Aboo was healthy and abruptly died. But after thinking about it for a short time I realized it was likely die to the fact that Aboo had been in a cage near a constant source of fresh, uncontaminated air and Henry was in the kitchen. Aboo died the day after I had moved his cage and placed him on top of Henry’s cage.

Henry and Aboo were both burried under a pair of Hibiscus Bushes planted in their memory.

I had never heard of such a thing happening. I made a point to call the people we got the birds from and let them know what had happened and they had also not heard of this happening before either.

Since this happened we have also removed all nonstick cookware from our home and have switched to Stainless Steel and Cast Iron Cookware.

 T Fal maintains that Non-Stick Cookware is safe. It states the cookware is hazardous to birds only but doesn’t go into specific detail about the hazards or risks birds may experience if exposed to Teflon.

However, what TFAL doesn’t tell you is that an stove doesn’t function on a temperature basis. A stove burner will continue to get hotter and hotter if there is nothing there to absorb the heat that it is putting off, it will just take a while but a burner set to LOW is capable of heating to 400°. Having said that, it blows T FALS theory of:

To cause any possible hazard to the consumer, it would be necessary to heat 36 non-stick frying pans simultaneously to 750° F. Since in a domestic kitchen the maximum temperature possible to which a pan can normally be heated is approximately 575° F, there is no risk should a pan be accidentally overheated. 

Completely out of the water. In other words, DONT BURN ANYTHING. But is that really even enough to protect you from the dangers of this type of toxin? Keep reading.

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If you don’t burn anything, you should be safe right? Afterall, you aren’t eating the actual Teflon right? WRONG! You are infact eating it. Have you ever examined the inside of one of these pans? If it has a chip or a scratch or missing areas of coating, it was almost certainly consumed by someone.

Chemicals used to make Teflon are in the blood of every one of us. This is something the EPA and Toxicologists around the world have not been able to fully explain.

According to Toxicologist Tim Kropp, PhD, Senior Scientist with the Watch Dog Group Environmental Working Group finds this situation very alarming. Tim Kropp tells WebMD:

It doesn’t breakdown — ever. Its the most persistent synthetic chemical known to man.

It would take your body two decades to get rid of 95% of it, assuming you aren’t exposed to any more of it. But you are.

Though DuPont is quick to point out the safety of Teflon® and to distance it from the chemical PFOA, Studies show Teflon® cookware releases PFOA when heated to 680°F (360°C). This temperature can be reached fairly quickly, for example, a forgotten pan is left empty preheating on a very hot burner. DuPont acknowledges this, but points out that this is incorrect use of the cookware.

DuPont’s own research suggested a link between PFOA and rare birth defects in animals. Of the seven pregnant women at the West Virginia plant, two of the seven babies born bore similar serious birth defects. In response to the EWG petition, the EPA fined DuPont 16.5 million US dollars (USD) in December 2005 for failing to report the dangers of PFOA.

Still not convinced its dangerous?

A recent study done by Danish researchers found that men with high blood levels of chemicals used for nonstick coating have Lower Sperm Count. Semen from 105 men (average age 19) were tested for the presence of PFOA and other related chemicals. It was found that men with the highest levels had half the number of normal sperm compared with men who had lower levels of the chemicals in their blood.

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, studied data from the Danish National Birth Cohort, in which women were interviewed four times during and after pregnancy. They randomly selected 1,400 women who had planned their pregnancies, and who had provided maternal blood samples, which were analyzed for PFOS and PFOA. Women who had the highest levels of the two chemicals in their blood took the longest time to get pregnant, and had the highest rates of infertility (defined as taking longer than 12 months to get pregnant).

But these were the only negative health concerns which have been discovered. Other health concerns include High Cholesterol and Thyroid Problems.

PTFE-based nonstick coatings are sold under a number of brand names besides those mentioned above, so avoid anything advertised as Fluron, Supra, Greblon, Xylon, Duracote, Resistal, Autograph, Unison, Swiss Diamond, and T-Fal. This includes cookware as well as small appliances like toaster ovens.

In a nutshell, these cooking surfaces are not only dangerous and even deadly in some circumstances and they should be avoided at all costs.

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