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Lead-based paint is poisoning albatross chicks at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge

ge of the buildings. "The situation is similar to many neighborhoods with older homes painted with lead-based paint," he said. "What's needed is better lead-hazard control, including building maintenance and clean-up of the site."

Lead-poisoned chicks are common around the buildings on the island, Finkelstein said. Many chicks with lead poisoning don't have droopwing, but likely suffer from other forms of toxicity that lower their chances of survival, she said. Chicks with droopwing may survive as long as their parents are feeding them, but once they reach the fledgling stage and their parents abandon them, they are doomed to starvation because they can't fly. Other affected chicks may die sooner from complications of lead poisoning, Finkelstein said.

Midway hosts the largest known breeding population of Laysan albatross, accounting for about 65 percent of the total global population. The most recent census, in 2001, counted 287,000 breeding pairs. Many other species of seabirds also nest on the atoll's tiny islands. The albatross nest on the ground and have no fear of humans, so their nests are found not only in open fields but also scattered among the buildings and beside roads and walkways.

"It's an amazing thing to see. The birds are everywhere," Finkelstein said.

Finkelstein looked at albatross chicks from two sites, one near buildings and another in an open field with no known source of lead contamination. She collected blood samples from the chicks and soil and paint chips from each chick's nest. All the samples were analyzed for lead levels and isotopic composition using a highly sensitive mass spectrometer.

There are four naturally occurring isotopes of lead, and their ratios may vary depending on the source of the lead sample. Different layers of paint on the buildings at Midway had different isotope signatures, and the blood samples and soil samples also varied widely in their isotope compositions. To identify the
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Contact: Tim Stephens
stephens@ucsc.edu
831-459-4352
University of California - Santa Cruz
2-Jul-2003


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