Can I smell this?
February 21, 2012 11:28 AM   Subscribe

I accidentally melted a plastic ladle on my cooktop this morning. It smoked profusely and the fumes smelled horrible. How concerned should I be about toxicity? All windows are currently open, but there's still a lingering odor. I did call the poison control center, and the operator told me that 1) yes, the fumes could be toxic, and 2) in the absence of symptoms, just air out the house. Does the hive mind have anything to add?
posted by Wordwoman to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's anecdotal..

but I've accidentally melted utensils on the stove before and, outside the horrible smell, suffered no ill effects.
posted by royalsong at 11:37 AM on February 21, 2012

Does the hive mind have anything to add?

Only that I used to spend hours and hours as a kid melting plastic models and army men with candles and a soldering iron in an unventilated room and I'm fine.

If poison control didn't tell you to evacuate the house, you'll be ok. There's nothing you can do about it at this point anyway.

As you can probably tell, I'm not a doctor or anyone who really knows anything at all about the chemistry of such things. I just liked to melt shit.
posted by bondcliff at 11:40 AM on February 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

If you have an air purifier, you could run that after the house is good and aired-out. Airborne toxins are either going to be cleared out through your windows or they'll settle in with the usual dust and dirt of the house and get swept or vacuumed up later.

So open all your windows, clear the air as well as you can, and you'll be totally fine.
posted by clockzero at 11:43 AM on February 21, 2012

Air out the house and don't worry about it. I can't believe this is the first time you've destoyed a plastic utensil- consider yourself housekeeper extraordinaire.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:45 AM on February 21, 2012

Best answer: The worst fumes come when the utensil is actually burning in the form of the concentrated black smoke emanating from it. Once the burning stops, the residual smell is not very toxic if at all.

Plastic cooking utensils are made of nylon. (I'm assuming it's not silicone, because that would take a lot more effort to burn.) Burning (actually melting, because nylon is a construct that is used in cooking precisely because it won't catch fire) will produce mostly carbon (black smoke) and trace amounts of hydrogen cyanide and hydrogen chloride.

Don't be scared by the hydrogen cyanide! There may be scattered particulates in the air, but as mentioned before, it's not as close to as toxic as being next to a busy road, or more related, second-hand smoke. Cyanide poising comes in two forms: acute (meaning you'd be dead by now) and chronic (meaning prolonged contact with the substance in small amounts). I can't imagine that your burnt plastic cooking utensil could have produced enough cyanide to qualify for chronic poisoning, unless you plan on burning more utensils on a regular basis for the next few months. As long as you are not snorting the black char left behind, I'm guessing you should be fine. Air out the place to get rid of the smell and particulates, and cook many yummy meals.
posted by jabberjaw at 12:12 PM on February 21, 2012 [5 favorites]

You're fine. Your pets are fine - even your very toxin-sensitive birds, assuming they're still alive - but the rest of them are fine.

Use a metal spatula or putty knife to scrape off what's left. Then turn the burner up to HIGH, and burn off what's left. NBD. With the windows open, obviously... but do this, so that the next time you use the burner you won't be surprised.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:44 PM on February 21, 2012

You'll probably have to replace the burner. I have the burned-on plastic one still, because I'm lazy, but it definitely isn't coming clean.
posted by Pomo at 12:54 PM on February 21, 2012

All I can think to add is if the fumes from burning plastic utensils (or, um, other dishes) were fatally toxic, I would have expired years ago. The yucky smell will go away and you will be more careful in the future as a result of this - it's all good.
posted by futureisunwritten at 1:30 PM on February 21, 2012

If it makes you feel any better, I had a similar incident when my son, who was born prematurely, was first home from the hospital. He only weighed 5 lbs. Poison Control told me to just air the house and that there was no cause for concern.
posted by gentian at 8:58 PM on February 21, 2012

The fumes from overheated nylon are about as toxic as cigarette smoke, if that puts it into perspective for you.
posted by flabdablet at 3:00 AM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

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