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Chemicals killing Florida birds, fish

Chemicals killing Florida birds, fish Friday, February 19, 1999

Scientists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have found that organochlorine chemicals appear to be killing birds and fish near Lake Apopka, Fla.

Lake Apopka is the state's fourth-largest and most polluted lake.

More than 300 white pelicans, 23 endangered wood storks, 50 other fish- eating birds (great blue herons, cormorants, ring-billed gulls, common egrets), and three bald eagles have died near the lake northwest of Orlando.

"The birds are preying on the fish in ditches and small pools northeast of the lake," said Dale Hall, acting regional director for the Southeastern Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "The birds become sick and die after eating the contaminated fish."

Biologists surmise that fish in the lake have high levels of organochlorines caused by chemicals accumulating in ponds and ditches on the land off the northeast part of the lake. Birds eating these fish are becoming fatally infected.

Organochlorines are contained in many familiar products, such as in solvents, pesticides, plastics, disinfectants, forms of packaging and bleached pulp and paper products. Polychlorinated biphenyls, (PCBs), chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and DDT are also organochlorine compounds which, although banned or discredited, are still evident in the environment.

The scientists are concerned that these chemicals may also be adversely affecting mammals, including people, who have had direct contact with the soils from the area.

This problem is compounded by the possible presence of multiple chemicals which together have an additive effect that greatly increases the lethal action of any single chemical. Test results are pending that will identify which specific organochlorines are involved.

Hall warns that people should avoid contact with any sick or dead birds and avoid eating fish caught in the area. The migratory patterns of the birds involved range the length of the state of Florida, as well as into parts of Georgia.

Local aviators and experimental aircraft pilots have been asked to avoid low level flights over Lake Apopka, which can cause the birds to disperse into the danger zone.

"We would like to do everything we can to keep birds away from an area of about 13,000 acres northeast of Lake Apopka in Orange County and alleviate any undesirable stress on the birds," said Hall.

The service will continue to investigate this situation and will work with the other federal, state and local agencies and organizations involved to help identify the cause and possible remediation.

The site is a feeding and resting area for 12.5 percent (1,500-2,000 birds) of the Florida population of wood storks, an endangered species. There are an estimated 11,000 wood storks in the United States today.

For more information, contact Tom MacKenzie, USFWS, (404)679-2791. Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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