Mercury found in New York songbirds

| Tue Jul. 25, 2006 11:52 AM EDT

For some time now, we have known about the mercury levels found in American lakes and streams, and, as a consequence, in fish. In 1998, biologist David C. Evers tested common loons, whose diet is made up of fish, and found significant levels of mercury in the birds. Because of the mercury, the loons became lethargic and their reproductive rates dropped.

Now Dr. Evers has gone a step farther, and has tested birds that do not consume fish. He decided to study the wood thrush, whose Northeast population has declined 45% in the last few decades. All 178 New York state wood thrushes tested by Evers last year turned out to have high levels of mercury in their blood and feathers. There is now some speculation, in fact, that mercury may be one cause of the bird's decline, not just habitat destruction, as previously assumed.

According to Dr. Evers, "If these birds are having trouble, that should be a very good indicator of a risk to our own well-being and health as well."

New York's Governor George Pataki has proposed cutting mercury emissions from the state's power plants in half by 2010.