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Zinc and lead poisoning in wild birds in the Tri-State Mining District (Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri)

January 1, 2004

contaminated with Pb, Cd, and Zn from mining, milling and smelting. Metals have been dispersed heterogeneously throughout the District in the form of milled mine waste ('chat'), as flotation tailings and from smelters as aerial deposition or slag. This study was conducted to determine if the habitat has been contaminated to the extent that the assessment populations of wild birds are exposed to toxic concentrations of metals. American robins (Turdus migratorius), northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis), and waterfowl had increased Pb tissue concentrations (p < 0.05) compared with Pb tissue concentrations from reference birds, and the exposure of songbirds to Pb was comparable with that of birds observed at other sites severely contaminated with Pb. Mean activities of the Pb-sensitive enzyme delta-aminolevulinic acid dehydratase (ALAD) were decreased by >50% in red blood cells in these birds (p < 0.05). Several birds had tissue concentrations of Pb that have been associated with impaired biological functions and external signs of poisoning. Cadmium was increased in kidneys of songbirds (p < 0.05), but no proximal tubule cell necrosis associated with Cd poisoning was observed. Zinc concentrations in liver and kidney of waterfowl were significantly higher (p < 0.05) than reference values. The increased environmental concentrations of Zn associated with mining in the District accounted for the pancreatitis previously observed in five waterfowl from the District. The District is the first site at which free-flying wild birds have been found to be suffering severe effects of Zn poisoning.