Scientists Find Planet's Most Polluted Bird

Cooper's hawk found with higher levels of flame retardants than any other
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted May 1, 2015 8:00 AM CDT
Scientists Find Planet's Most Polluted Bird
This March 18, 2013, photo shows a Cooper's hawk.   (AP Photo/Dean Fosdick)

The Vancouver area is home to what is thus far known to be our planet's most polluted wild bird. Researchers studying the livers of local birds of prey found that the Cooper's hawk was tainted with polybrominated diphenyl ethers, chemicals that function as flame retardants. Of the 13 hawks tested, one bird's levels were as high as 197,000 parts per billion. No bird tested worldwide has been as polluted with the stuff as this hawk, the Vancouver Sun reports; that includes birds at an electronic waste area in China. A McGill University press release on the study cheekily describes the Vancouver birds as "flameproof" in its headline.

In the past, PBDE was found in products as diverse as computers and furniture, but the release notes that Canada has banned many kinds of PBDE in the last decade—taking it out of new products but dumping more of it into landfills via old ones. To wit, study author Kyle Elliott notes that the PBDE level in starlings who nested near one Vancouver landfill was an average 6,360 parts per billion, nearly 15 times what it was in other Vancouver populations; the hawks prey on starlings. "We were really surprised to see such high levels in greater Vancouver, which you think of as green and progressive," says Elliott, who does note that PBDE levels have been dropping in other local birds. But even amid the PBDE bans, the chemicals haven't disappeared—in fact, the EPA has suggested "ambient levels" may actually be on the rise, CityLab notes. (Another threat to birds: windows.)

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