Shatter resistant or safety coated light bulbs are a potential source for toxic fumes that can be dangerous to your chickens and other poultry. There are a number of shatter  resistant light bulbs on the market today. These include heat lamp bulbs, work lamp bulbs, and appliance bulbs. These bulbs have or may have a coating made of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE)  which makes them shatter resistant.

When these bulbs are used, they heat up, and if the glass wall of the bulb becomes hot enough the coating can release toxic fumes. Birds (such as chickens or other poultry) are very sensitive to airborne toxins and can die from the exposure to such fumes. This can happen quickly.

We were recently contacted by a small flock owner whom this happened to. She went out to her chicken coop to find all of her chickens dead. The cause? She had recently purchased a shatter resistant light bulb and used it in her chicken coop. The bulb’s packaging contained no information on the potential dangers and did not tell the composition of the shatterproof coating. The deeply saddened flock owner had her chickens examined by the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension Service’s Veterinarian, a pathological specialist. The veterinarian examined the chickens, and could find no disease.  The only thing that had changed in the management of the chickens was the installation of this light bulb.  The veterinarian researched the light bulb and found that it has a PTFE coating. The conclusion was that the coating heated up during the use of the bulb, and in the enclosed coop produced high enough concentrations of toxic fumes to kill the chickens.

Something similar occurred on a larger scale in 1999 in a poultry research facility in Missouri, where many birds in a 2400 bird broiler flock died over the course of several days.  According to clinical results, the death of the broiler chickens was due to exposure to noxious gas.  No change had been made to the management of the birds other than the installation of 48 PTFE-coated heat lamp bulbs.

PTFE is a synthetic polymer that was developed in 1938. Besides the coating in shatter resistant light bulbs, it is used in a number of other household products, some of which include portable heaters, irons and ironing board covers, hair curling irons, stain resistant coatings on carpet, stove top burners, drip pans, self-cleaning ovens, non-stick cooking pans, slow cookers, waffle makers, bread makers, and tortilla presses. Not all such products contain PTFE, but some do. PTFE is also associated with the brand names Teflon®, Rulon®, Chemfluor®, and possibly others.

PTFE is relatively stable and chemical and heat resistant at room temperature, but at high temperature it can release toxic fumes.  These fumes can be dangerous to humans, causing flu-like symptoms, but are even more harmful to birds because of their small size, efficient lungs, and high metabolic rate.

We do not recommend using shatter proof bulbs or any products containing PTFE in your chicken coops or in brooders for baby chicks. If you have any doubts as to the safety of a particular product, please research it as thoroughly as possible before using it with your poultry.  The heat lamp bulbs that we carry on our website and in our catalog are free of PTFE and are safe to use with your poultry.

Other types of fumes that can also be harmful or fatal to chickens or other birds include include aerosols, fumes from paint, paint thinners, gasoline, certain glues, or other heated plastics, tobacco smoke, carbon monoxide, pesticides (such as foggers or bug bombs), and moth balls.

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