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

source of exposure, the researchers had to use a "case study" approach, looking at each chick individually and the samples taken from its nest. They found a strong correlation between the isotope signatures in a chick's blood and the signatures in paint chips from its nest. There was no correlation with isotope signatures from soil samples.

Lee Ann Woodward, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service contamination specialist for the Pacific Region, said it's not hard to understand how the chicks are ingesting paint chips.

"I call it the bored chick syndrome," she said. "They're sitting on the nest for six months and they constantly groom the nest and the area around it."

The Fish and Wildlife Service is taking steps to deal with the problem, Woodward said. Although the number of chicks affected by lead poisoning is small compared to other causes of mortality and is not a threat to the overall population, the agency takes the issue very seriously, she said.

"This study has been very helpful to us in pointing out the need to do something," Woodward said. "We have gotten funding this year to go out and determine how extensive the problem is and what it would take to deal with it. Because it's such a remote site and any equipment has to be sent out on barges, we really need to have a good idea ahead of time what the scope of the operation will have to be."

Smith said the situation on Midway underscores the potential for environmental and public health hazards on decommissioned military bases, many of which serve as wildlife refuges. Lead-based paint is just one of many potential hazards at these sites, he said.


Contact: Tim Stephens
University of California - Santa Cruz

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