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Polychlorinated biphenyls and 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin equivalents in tree swallows from the upper Hudson River, New York State, USA

November 1, 1999

The upper Hudson River of New York State, USA, is contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) as a result of industrial discharges throughout the latter half of this century. In 1994 and 1995, we monitored the transfer of PCBs from aquatic sediments to a terrestrial wildlife community using the tree swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) as a model organism. Tree swallow eggs and nestlings were collected at four colonies established along a 40-km stretch of the upper Hudson River watershed. Samples were analyzed for total PCBs and PCB congeners, including non-ortho- and mono-ortho-substituted PCBs. Mean concentrations of PCBs in tree swallow eggs and nestlings ranged from 721 to 62,200 ng/g and were as much as 15 times greater than PCB concentrations in tree swallow eggs and nestlings collected from PCB-contaminated areas within the Great Lakes ecosystem. The corresponding 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin equivalents (TEQs) calculated using avian toxic equivalency factors ranged from 410 to 25,400 pg/g. Concentrations of PCB congener 77 (3,39,4,49-tetrachlorobiphenyl) were extremely elevated and were major contributors to the calculated TEQs. Homologue pattern comparisons between Hudson River and Saginaw River (Michigan, USA) ecosystems supported the hypothesis that a consistent Hudson River PCB source was the major contributor to PCBs in Hudson River tree swallows. The high concentrations of PCBs in Hudson River sediments and resultant concentrations observed in tree swallows were indicative of a potential elevated risk to these and other wildlife linked to the aquatic food web of the Hudson River ecosystem.