PORTLAND (AP) – A new study has found mercury, pesticides and dozens of other harmful contaminants in bird egg samples from across Maine, raising questions about the pervasiveness of the pollutants in the environment.

In a 76-page study to be released Tuesday, researchers tested for more than 190 different contaminants in egg samples from 23 bird species to determine where and in which birds the pollutants were concentrating.

The study’s principal investigator, biologist Wing Goodale of the BioDiversity Research Institute, said he knows of no other study that tested so many bird types for so many chemicals.

Contaminants were found in every egg sampled. If such a wide range of contaminants is found in bird eggs, it raises the question of where else in the environment they are accumulating, he said.

“If these compounds are building up in birds that live (on) our oceans, our lakes and in our uplands, then it’s guaranteed they’re accumulating in our game fish and our wildlife and potentially in our bodies,” said Goodale. “I think if I were tested, all these compounds would be found in me as well.”

BioDiversity Research Institute, a nonprofit ecological organization based in Gorham, is known for Web cameras it places near loon and eagle nesting sites that give Internet viewers a live, close-up look at those birds.

For the bird egg study, it gathered eggs from more than 130 nests across Maine last summer and had them tested for a number of chemicals that have been shown to be harmful to human health. The tested contaminants included mercury; transformer coolants, or PCBs; flame retardants, or PBDEs; industrial stain and water repellants, or PFCs; and banned pesticides.

The birds that were studied ranged from terns, eagles and Atlantic puffins to red-winged blackbirds, ospreys and tree swallows.

When the test results were compiled, Goodale said he was surprised to find more than 100 different contaminants from all contaminant groups in the eggs.

Barry Mower, a biologist with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, said he’s never seen a study focusing on so many bird species with samples taken from so many places. The DEP contributed $16,000 toward the $75,000 cost of the study.

“The sample sizes aren’t big enough to form definite conclusions, but it points to the need for continuing work in these areas,” he said.

Other bird egg studies have focused on multiple samples from a single or a few bird species, said Steve Mierzykowski, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Old Town. Goodale’s study includes a few samples – between one and six – from multiple species across a range of habitats being tested for multiple contaminants.

“It certainly provides information you can build on,” he said.

The study contained a number of findings, Goodale said.

Not surprisingly, eagles and peregrine falcons – birds at the top of the food chain – had the highest contaminant levels, while Virginia rails and willets had the lowest levels. Eagle eggs tested positive for DDT, 35 years after the pesticide was banned in the U.S.

A flame retardant commonly known as deca – short for decaBDE – was found in the eggs of eight species, Goodale said. And industrial stain and water repellants were found for the time in Maine birds, he said.

The study also revealed encouraging news.

It showed that PCB levels in sea bird eggs were seven times lower than samples taken in the late 1970s. Also, PCB levels were lower in eagle eggs than tests in years past. “It demonstrates that if you’re no longer using them they’ll no longer build up in wildlife,” he said.

Goodale planned to present the study to the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday.

Matt Prindiville, a toxics policy advocate with the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said it’s important to include emerging studies in policy debates about the environment. People, after all, live in the same environment as birds, he said.

“We drink the same water and breathe the same air,” he said.



On the Net:

BioDiversity Research Institute: www.briloon.org

AP-ES-03-10-08 1412EDT


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.