Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Canary Effect

Last year, lead dust in the town of Esperance, Australia, killed 4,000 birds. The dust's source was a shipment of lead from Magellan Metals' Wiluna mine that passed through Esperance. A year later, the problem persists.

Dr Nic Dunlop, who contributed to the study, says it found most birds recorded lead levels 10 to 100 times higher than normal.

He says the contamination is likely to cause more bird deaths.

"Now the problem is over time, they will increasingly ingest that lead, either through preening or through their food, so it's quite likely as time goes on that we will get a second wave of impact on birds and other wildlife as a consequence of that lead," he said.

The Planning and Infrastructure Minister Alannah MacTiernan says the study is outdated.

She says the Government is constantly monitoring lead levels in the area.

"Since then we have done another comprehensive clean up at the port and since then all of the other tests that we have done all of the tests, November, December, January, February, March are all showing improvements in the outcomes in fact quite dramatic improvements," she said.
It is a very sad situation, and one that must be unsettling for the town's residents. So far I have not heard about any human casualties from lead pollution in Esperance, but I am sure that it is having an effect – if not among adults then among children. This is one reason that it is good to keep birds around: they are much more sensitive to changes in the environment, and sound the alarm when something is wrong.