Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


UGA collaboration discovers toxic chemical in birds outside of Superfund site


Researchers at the University of Georgia's Savannah River Ecology Laboratory have found that a contaminated mixture called Aroclor 1268 has spread beyond a former chemical plant, now a Superfund site, near Brunswick.

SREL scientists and colleagues from UGA's Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources and the College of Veterinary Medicine published their findings recently in the journal Environmental Science: Processes and Impacts.

A least tern chick moves away from an unhatched sibling egg on Andrews Island, Georgia.

Credit: Angela H. Lindell/Savannah River Ecology Laboratory

Study co-author Gary Mills, a biogeochemist at SREL and adjunct associate professor in the department of geology, used advanced analytical tools to detect the individual chemical components of the contaminant in egg and tissue samples of least terns, a short-range migratory seabird. The samples were taken over a two-year period from six nesting populations at various sites along the Georgia coast.

This is the first study to investigate the presence of Aroclor 1268 in fish-eating birds, said the study's senior investigator Sonia M. Hernandez, an associate professor in the Warnell School and the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study at the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Aroclor 1268 is composed of a suite of toxic chemical compounds known as polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. The chemical was used to produce insulation materials at the Linden Chemical Plant at the Turtle Estuary near Brunswick until 1994.

"Because its only use in the Southeast was at the now-closed Linden Chemical Plant, we know this is the original source of the contaminant," Mills said.

In 1996, the National Environmental Protection Agency placed the 550-acre site on the National Priorities List after finding PCBs, mercury and other contaminants. The area was later designated a Superfund site by the federal government--allowing for intensive cleanup.

Previous studies for Aroclor 1268 were all conducted at or very near the Superfund site.

"This current study is the most extensive, done across the range of coastal Georgia, and it shows the most extensive dispersion of the contaminant from the LCP site of any study done to date," Mills said.

The study sites ranged from 68 miles north of the Linden Chemical Plant to Savannah to 43 miles south near Kingsland and Cumberland Island.

Tissue samples taken from birds in these areas contained enough Aroclor 1268 to cause a number of adverse effects, including lower egg production, physical and physiological abnormalities in offspring and immune system disorders.

The findings indicate that the least tern ingests the contaminant when it forages on fish. Hernandez said because shore birds are at the top of the food chain, they are important indicators of the health of coastal environments.

Mills agrees, and said it is clear Aroclor 1268 has spread beyond the Superfund site via the food web because it is the most likely explanation for its presence in the species at the various sites. Because it is hydrophobic, or non-soluble in water, the contaminant naturally bonds to sediments.

"But sediment transport from tidal flow and coastal currents at these distances would significantly dilute the contaminant," Mills said.

Supporting the findings are previous studies that document the presence of the chemical in reptiles, plants, fish, invertebrates and marine mammals.

Armed with this new information that Aroclor 1268 is spread through the food web beyond the site, researchers should be concerned about the potential transmission to predator and scavenger species and the population risk to the least tern, Hernandez said.

She also points to the lingering duration of its effects.

"Finding Aroclor 1268 in these bird tissues such a long time after its production ceased is evidence of the persistence of the contaminant," she said.

The findings should also be an alert to researchers conducting studies at Cumberland Island and the surrounding area--reference sites for ecological studies, the researchers said.


Additional study co-authors include Gabrielle L. Robinson, Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, Cape Cod Natural Seashore; Angela Lindell, SREL; and Sarah Schweitzer, North Carolina Wildlife Commission.

The project was funded by the Morris Animal Foundation and supported by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The study is available at A map of the site, included with the study, is available at

Media Contact

Vicky L. Sutton-Jackson


Vicky L. Sutton-Jackson | EurekAlert!

Further reports about: Medicine Veterinary Medicine contaminant species toxic chemical

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht First time-lapse footage of cell activity during limb regeneration
25.10.2016 | eLife

nachricht Phenotype at the push of a button
25.10.2016 | Institut für Pflanzenbiochemie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

Fluorescent holography: Upending the world of biological imaging

25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Etching Microstructures with Lasers

25.10.2016 | Process Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>