Lead paint poisoning is unlawfully killing up to 10,000 chicks each year on Midway Atoll, the Center for Biological Diversity contends in an impending lawsuit.
The nonprofit group has filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and affiliated agencies over the clean-up of lead paint at federal facilities on Midway.
The center alleges that lead from the 95 military buildings at the old Navy base is killing up to 10,000 chicks and threatening the endangered Laysan duck, thereby violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Endangered Species Act, and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
“For too long the Fish and Wildlife Service has stood by while thousands of albatross chicks die needlessly every year,” said Shaye Wolf, a Center biologist. “If they don’t take action to stop this problem, we will.”
A new study published in the journal Animal Conservation found that lead poisoning is killing up to 10,000 chicks per year on Midway, affecting the long-term survival of the Laysan albatross. Dr. Myra Finkelstein, an environmental toxicologist and the study’s lead author, found that chicks near contaminated structures have lethal levels of lead in their blood. Many poisoned chicks develop nervous system damage called “droopwing” that leaves them unable to lift their wings, which drag on the ground and become susceptible to open sores and fractures, leading to slow and painful death.
“It is heart-wrenching to see this problem persist for so many years,” said Finkelstein. “These magnificent birds sometimes experience horrific effects from lead poisoning for months before they finally die.”
The center said in a statement:
“The poison source is a decaying military base on Midway Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, part of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. Midway is the most important breeding site for the Laysan albatross. The U.S. Navy built its Midway base, later the site of a famous World War II battle, in 1903. When the Fish and Wildlife Service took over responsibility for Midway in 1996, it stopped maintaining most of the 95 military buildings. These structures are shedding toxic lead-paint chips that are then eaten by albatross chicks. Lead contamination also poses a threat to other Midway wildlife, including the highly endangered Laysan duck and 17 other species of seabirds.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service had no immediate response to the notification.