Modern-day colliers' canaries

Jul 31, 2013
Modern-day colliers' canaries

Much like the miners' canaries of yesteryear, birds are once again warning of potentially damaging substances in the former South Wales coalfield.

Whereas deep miners once carried caged canaries to warn of suffocating gases, today's equivalent comes from detailed chemical analysis of pollutant residues in the eggs of such as the dipper. These thrush-sized birds are the world's only song-birds to feed directly on river insects and they have proven to be excellent indicators of river health.

Research carried by scientists at the School of Biosciences shows that dipper eggs along urban South Wales rivers contain some pollutants at levels, on average, over four times greater than in adjacent rural rivers and are among the highest ever found in songbirds.

The pollutants – such as PCBs and PBDEs – can persist in the environment for long periods and are among those believed to contribute to hormonal irregularities and abnormal development in fish.

Some of these pollutants are a legacy of past industrial activity but others, such as PBDEs – widely used as in building, industrial and domestic materials – might still be increasing.

This work is important in showing that such substances can find their way into water, particularly near towns and cities, and accumulate in river wildlife.

Explore further: Education is key to climate adaptation

More information: Morrissey, C. A., et al. (2013) Eurasian dipper eggs indicate elevated organohalogenated contaminants in urban rivers. Environmental Science and Technology. pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/es402124z

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Banned pollutants are still found in sparrowhawks

Apr 26, 2013

High levels of polluting chemicals which are used as flame retardants have been detected in the livers of sparrowhawks in the UK. So-called PBDEs (Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers) are a group of 209 closely ...

Australia's city birds carry highest toxic load

Sep 15, 2011

Toxic industrial pollutants contaminate bird eggs in Australia's major eastern cities at levels seven to nine times higher than those in inland areas, a new study has found.

Britain's urban rivers bounce back

Jun 29, 2012

Urban rivers throughout England and Wales have improved dramatically in water quality and wildlife over the last 20 years.

Dangerous chemicals found in south China river

Jul 06, 2013

(AP)—Residents and water plants along a river in southern China that is used as a drinking source have been warned not to use the river's water after authorities detected excessive amounts of two dangerous chemicals.

Recommended for you

Education is key to climate adaptation

3 hours ago

Given that some climate change is already unavoidable—as just confirmed by the new IPCC report—investing in empowerment through universal education should be an essential element in climate change adaptation ...

India court slams Delhi's worsening air pollution

12 hours ago

India's environment court has slammed the government over the capital's horrendous air pollution, which it said was "getting worse" every day, and ordered a string of measures to bring it down.

US proposes stricter ozone limits

23 hours ago

The US Environmental Protection Agency announced plans Wednesday to strengthen emission regulations for ozone, a smog-causing pollutant blamed for respiratory ailments affecting millions of Americans.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.