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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 January, 2004, 14:42 GMT
Frying pan fumes 'kill canaries'
By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent

Blue budgerigar   BBC
New chemicals "threaten" caged birds, WWF says
Fumes given off by cancer-causing chemicals used to make non-stick frying pans are killing hundreds of pet birds every year, environmentalists say.

The Worldwide Fund for Nature says it is hearing reports that many US caged birds are being killed by the fumes.

It says the chemicals, perfluorinated compounds, are also contaminating both people and wildlife with grave effects.

The chemicals industry says it doubts that birds exposed to ordinary levels of the compounds could die from them.

Guilty till proved harmless

In a report, Causes For Concern: Chemicals and Wildlife, WWF says the compounds, also used in some textiles and food packaging, are among "the most prominent new toxic hazards".

It sounds highly unlikely to me that birds exposed to perfluorinated compounds in normal household conditions would be killed
Judith Hackitt, Chemical Industries Association
It says: "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."

Elizabeth Salter-Green, head of WWF's toxics programme, said: "Years ago, coal miners took canaries with them down the pits to detect lethal gases.

"Now, canaries are dying in our kitchens, but no action is being taken about the suspect chemicals.

"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."

WWF says while the harmful effects of chemicals like DDT and polychlorinated biphenyls have been documented, recent studies of other chemicals on sale today show the dangers to people and wildlife.

It says: "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.

Brussels' approach defended

"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 feminisation."

WWF says the European Union's planned legislation, Reach (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) does not go far enough.

It says Reach "falls short of ensuring that hazardous chemicals are replaced with safer alternatives".

Judith Hackitt, director-general of the UK's Chemical Industries Association, told BBC News Online: "It sounds highly unlikely to me that birds exposed to perfluorinated compounds in normal household conditions would be killed.

"With them and the other chemicals WWF is concerned about, the industry is spending a lot on investigating them.

"And with Reach, it's a big assumption to say replacement won't happen - I think it will."

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