High lead levels found in SE Missouri songbirds

High lead levels found in songbirds captured in lead mining area of Missouri

Associated Press

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- About half of the ground-feeding songbirds collected from lead-mining regions of southeast Missouri had extremely high levels of lead in their blood, kidneys and liver, according to a survey released Tuesday by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Lead mining and smelting have been going on in portions of southeast Missouri since the early 1700s. The region contains the world's largest deposit of the lead mineral galena.

USGS performed the study at the request of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of an assessment of potential damage to wildlife from exposure to lead-contaminated soil. USGS scientists in 2009 and 2010 captured 34 songbirds in the region known as the Old Lead Belt, portions of the Big River flood plain and in an area within the Mark Twain National Forest.

"We knew mining had gone on there for many years," said Nelson Beyer, author of the study. "We knew the area itself was very contaminated but there hasn't been a lot of work done on songbirds."

Tested birds — mostly cardinals, robins, blue jays and eastern towhees — had eight times the normal amount of lead in their blood, 13 times the normal amount in their liver and 23 times the normal amount in their kidneys, according to the survey that compared the Missouri birds with birds captured elsewhere.

Lead poisoning in birds can cause abnormal muscle function, kidney and liver failure, decreased fertility and anemia, wildlife experts say.

Beyer said contamination levels were particularly bad in robins. Some had lead levels 50 times higher than robins sampled in other areas.

"It's very clear that robins stand out, and it's because of their habit of eating things in the ground such as worms," Beyer said.

Elevated lead levels were also found in soil and earthworms in the region. Some soil had lead levels 40 times above normal. Testing also found cadmium 25 times higher than normal, and zinc eight times higher than normal, the USGS said.

The study found high levels of cadmium in the birds. Concentrations of zinc were not found to be elevated.

Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Georgia Parham said the survey is part of an effort to assess damage in southeast Missouri caused by lead mining. The study will eventually be part of settlement negotiations once responsible parties are determined.

Parham said there was no timetable for how long that process could take. She said that eventually, the settlement money could be used for things such as restoring habitat used by songbirds.

The region has been dealing with lead-related problems for years. Studies have found high levels in some yards and along roadways where trucks containing the lead come and go. Huge piles of chat — mine waste — are part of the landscape in some towns in the Old Lead Belt area of St. Francois County.

Experts say the lead gets into the environment through erosion from the chat, smelting and dust. Flooding has transported some of the lead and caused it to get into waterways.

Among humans, children are at the greatest risk from lead exposure. It can affect their cognitive function and can cause anemia, decreased muscle and bone growth, hearing loss and even brain damage in extreme cases.

View Comments (2)

Recommended for You

  • Luggage piece found on French island near possible MH370 debris

    Part of a bag was found Thursday on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion not far from plane debris which has fuelled speculation it may be from missing flight MH370. "The piece of luggage was here since yesterday but nobody really paid attention," said Johnny Begue, a member of a local…

  • Turkey onslaught on Kurds, after IS attack, fuels anger

    DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (AP) — Just when it seemed Turkey was getting serious about the fight against IS, it has turned its military focus to pounding its old foe: the Kurdish rebels.

    Associated Press34 mins ago
  • Chicago man cleared after 17 years in prison shot dead

    CHICAGO (AP) — A Chicago man who served 17 years in prison for murder before being cleared of the crime has been shot and killed almost three years after being released from prison, police said Wednesday.

    Associated Press
  • Family Pet-Sitter Helps Herself To Homeowner's Possessions

    DEAR ABBY: A trusted and beloved family member who takes care of my cats -- and therefore has a key to my house -- has been stealing things like cleaning supplies, knickknacks, family pictures, etc. Most of them have little monetary value. But imagine my surprise when I spotted some of my missing…

    Dear Abby
  • Play

    Body cam footage from Cincinnati shooting contradicts official story

    A University of Cincinnati police officer has been indicted for murder after body camera footage contradicted his official story outlining the events that led to the shooting death of unarmed Cincinnati driver Samuel Dubose.

    Reuters Videos
  • Russia reassures Israel over Iran nuclear deal

    Russian President Vladimir Putin told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday that the deal on Iran's nuclear program would improve security in the Middle East and guaranteed that Tehran would not acquire nuclear arms. Israel plans to lobby the U.S. Congress not to approve the…

  • An American Dentist Killed Zimbabwe’s Famous Lion

    Cecil the lion, a famous black-maned resident of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, died at the hands of an American dentist, conservationists claim. “Mr. Palmer shot Cecil with a bow and arrow but this shot didn't kill him,” Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, said in…

  • Dashcam catches off-duty cop threatening to put 'hole in head' of driver

    Technically Incorrect: A Massachusetts driver makes a wrong turn. What happens next, all filmed on his dashcam, has led to an investigation. And yes, it's now on YouTube.

  • Peanut Allergy Prevention: Introduce Infants Early and Often

    Peanut allergies strike fear into the hearts of many parents, my patients included. It's an understandable concern, as peanut allergy is one of the most common food allergies in the United States, affecting up to 3 percent of all children, and rates have risen steadily over the past 15 years.…

    U.S.News & World Report
  • Colorado theater shooter's dad saw wide-eyed smirk before

    CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — James Holmes came home on winter break from graduate school looking haggard and making odd facial expressions, but his father didn't suspect at the time that he was descending into mental illness.

    Associated Press
  • Taliban disavows Afghan peace talks after leader declared dead

    By Kay Johnson KABUL (Reuters) - The Taliban's official spokesman disavowed peace talks with the Afghan government on Thursday, throwing fledgling efforts to negotiate an end to 14 years of war into disarray. The statement came a day after the Afghan government said that Mullah Omar, the elusive…

  • Hidden Security Cameras Are Shocking Surprise For Daughter

    DEAR ABBY: I'm a 19-year-old woman in college who still lives with my parents. I found out something several weeks ago that's bothering me, and I need advice badly. Years ago, after a robbery, my parents installed security cameras outside our house. I knew about them because they were visible. But…

    Dear Abby
  • Jon Stewart signing off 'Daily Show' fake newscast for real

    NEW YORK (AP) — After more than 16 years and nearly 2,600 telecasts, Jon Stewart can feel proud of his scads of Emmys and his pair of Peabody Awards, his cultural gravitas (he hung with the Prez, both on and off the air!), even his reprobate status at Fox News.

    Associated Press24 mins ago
  • Play

    Custom truck built by father and son stolen in Lemoore

    A Lemoore man is on the hunt for his stolen pick-up truck. The classic custom ride holds significant sentiment to its owner, who built the truck with his late father.

    KFSN – Fresno
  • Boko Haram 'slits throats of 10 fishermen' near Lake Chad

    Boko Haram Islamists slit the throats of 10 fishermen in villages near Baga on the shores of the Lake Chad in northeastern Nigeria, a leading fisherman and a resident said Thursday. "On Monday around 4 pm (1500 GMT), Boko Haram attacked three villages on the shores of Lake Chad where they…

  • Internet mauls dentist accused of illegal kill of popular lion

    Technically Incorrect: Walter Palmer, a dentist in Minnesota, has his Yelp entry attacked by those not fond of his allegedly illegal killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe.

  • 4 Mistakes Seniors Make When Remodeling

    Joe Heider, founder of Cirrus Wealth Management in Cleveland, says he sees some pre-retirees build monster-size houses or undertake expensive remodels just before leaving the workforce. "For another grand you can do this or that and pretty soon you're at a number you can't afford," he says.

    U.S.News & World Report53 mins ago