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Originally published August 29 2014

DDT compounds found at deadly levels in Michigan birds and eggs

by Julie Wilson

(NaturalNews) The people and wildlife of St. Louis, Michigan, continue to suffer from pollution left behind from Velsicol Chemical Corp., a DDT-producing chemical company.

The 54-acre plant shut down decades ago and is now under control of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but the damages caused by the plant's operations are significantly stifling the area's ecosystem, particularly song-singing birds like robins.

In the 19th century, St. Louis served as a destination hotspot for those seeking healing from the town's Magnetic Mineral Springs. Decades later, Velsicol arrived, producing not only DDT but also polybrominated biphenyls, or PBBs, a chemical flame retardant.

The plant was forced to close its doors following the release of Rachel Caron's book Silent Spring, which highlighted the hazardous effects of toxic chemicals like DDT, particularly in birds.

Silent Spring was a catalyst for national pesticide policy reform, including the banning of DDT and other dangerous pesticides. DDT was invented in 1939 and first widely used during World War II for destroying malaria-causing insects. The inventor received a Nobel Prize for his work; a perfect example of honors given prematurely, before the extent and consequences of an idea is fully understood.

Michigan State toxicology professor introduces part two of his research regarding DDT and dead birds

Following years of innumerable complaints from St. Louis residents regarding dead and dying birds, a local toxicologist finally stepped forward to learn the cause. It's noteworthy to mention that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality ignored the complaints for years, according to Scientific American.

Matt Zwiernik, a professor of environmental toxicology at Michigan State University, collected 29 dead birds from a nine-block residential area near the former chemical site; his results were shocking and unprecedented. 100 percent of the dead birds contained extremely high levels of DDE, a breakdown product of DDT.

Zwiernik released part two of his results to the Pine River Superfund Taskforce on Aug. 20 following the monitoring of 60 active bird nests located within the same nine-block residential area, and also nine miles downstream.

The American robin eggs he collected were contaminated with DDx levels "far above those found to induce death in laboratory settings," reported Michigan's The Morning Sun.

The results of the eggs containing DDx were described as being "some of the highest ever recorded." Between 1 and 40 parts per million (ppm) of DDx is enough to cause death, depending on the species. For clarification, DDx includes DDT, and the breakdown compounds of DDD and DDE.

"I can't find anywhere in the literature where an egg had 770 ppm"

The DDx concentrations in the bird tissue ranged from 57 ppm to 770 ppm, averaging 153 ppm. "I can't find anywhere in the literature where an egg had 770 ppm," said Zwiernik. "It doesn't appear to be possible, [but] it is."

The nests were monitored twice a week. Researchers removed one or more eggs from 23 of the 60 nests. Eggs from nests with DDx concentrations above 63 ppm had a zero percent survival rate.

The concentrations were higher among nests closer to the Velsicol plant but were actually the highest near homes within the floodplain with recently mowed lawns.

Robins exposed their eggs by building nests with contaminated grass, which resulted in significantly lowering the species' success rates compared with the norm.

Concentrations of 0.5-2.3 ppm of PBBs, the chemical flame retardant, were found in the residential area and ranged from zero to 1 ppm downstream. Eggs containing 0.87 ppm or higher did not hatch.

Hatching success in the residential area ranged from 18 to 20 percent, and 33 to 44 percent downstream. To put this into perspective, hatching rates in a nearby nature center ranged from 88 to 94 percent.

In conclusion, robins in the residential area are experiencing "population adverse effects," but the sample size downstream was too small to establish a cause.

Health officials intend to leave concentrations of 5 ppm in the soil, but Zwiernik warns that the number is still too high and could continue to affect robins.

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