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(Lighting the Way to Less Toxic Living)


Frying Pan Fumes Kill Canaries



Friday 30 January 2004


A suite of toxic chemicals produced from non-stick frying pans heated at high temperatures are killing pet birds. Both people and wildlife, such as whales and falcons, are being contaminated reveals a recently published WWF report that highlights recent scientific evidence. The report, Causes for concern: chemicals and wildlife, by WWF draws attention to chemicals like perfluorinated compounds, used in the production of non-stick coatings, as one of the most prominent new toxic hazards. Hundreds of pet birds are thought to be killed by the fumes and particles emitted from non-stick coated products each year.

"Years ago coal miners took canaries with them down the pits to detect lethal gases and enable them to act quickly to the threat. Now, canaries are dying in our kitchens but no action is being taken about the suspect chemicals." said Elizabeth Salter-Green, Head of WWF's Toxics Programme. "The global production of chemicals is increasing, and at the same time we have warning signals that a variety of troubling threats to wildlife and human health are becoming more prevalent. It is reckless to suggest there is no link between the two and give chemicals the benefit of the doubt. Urgent action is needed to ensure that hazardous chemicals are replaced with safer alternatives."

Scientists have found perfluorinated compounds, classified as cancer-causing chemicals by the US Environmental Protection Agency, in dolphins, whales and cormorants in the Mediterranean, seals and sea eagles in the Baltic and polar bears.  Some textiles and food packaging are also made using perfluorinated compounds.

Contamination of animals and humans by harmful chemicals such as DDT and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) has been widely documented. Recent studies of chemicals on the market today are highlighting the dangers to people and wildlife. As well as perfluorinated compounds other harmful man-made chemicals still in use today include phthalates, phenolic compounds - such as bisphenol A - and brominated flame retardants (BFRs). Phthalates can be found in plastics (including PVC), phenolic compounds in food cans, plastic bottles and computer casings, and BFRs in fabrics and TVs.

These toxic compounds, which contaminate a wide range of animals, can cause severe health disorders such as cancer, damage to the immune system, behavioural problems, hormone disruption, or even feminization.  "By bringing certain products into their homes people are unwittingly exposing themselves to hazardous chemicals that could have serious future consequences for their health," said Elizabeth Salter-Green. "Scientific research is increasingly documenting the extent of wildlife and human contamination by a cocktail of chemicals.  Future dangers will only be averted if the effects of chemicals are revealed and the dangerous ones are halted."

WWF believes that current regulations to protect wildlife and people from these hazardous chemicals are ineffective. Proposed European Union chemicals legislation, called REACH, responds to the lack of safety information on chemicals on the market but falls short of ensuring that hazardous chemicals are substituted with safer alternatives.