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Field Studies Using European Starlings to Establish Causality between PCB Exposure and Reproductive Effects

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Accumulation and effects of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in avian species were evaluated at a Superfund site located at Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, Illinois, and seven criteria were used to assess whether there was a causal relationship between PCB exposure and observed reproductive effects. European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) were monitored at nest boxes constructed at each of two exposed and two reference sites. During the breeding season, starling productivity (number of chicks produced per nest) and adult nest attentiveness behavior (provisioning behavior) were monitored. At 15 days post-hatch, chicks were collected for contaminant and biomarker analyses. Chicks were necropsied, ethoxyresorufin-O-deethylase (EROD) activity measured in liver tissue, and PCB (Aroclor 1254) and 34 chlorinated biphenyl (CB) congener concentrations measured in carcasses using gas chromatography. PCB and CB concentrations also were measured in eggs that failed to hatch. Mean Aroclor 1254 and quantified CB concentrations were greater (P<0.001) in eggs that failed to hatch and 15-day-old chicks collected from PCB sites compared to those collected from reference sites. EROD activity was greater (P=0.005) in 15-day-old chicks collected from PCB sites and was correlated with carcass PCB concentrations. Reduced adult nest attentiveness behavior and decreased chick survival were observed at PCB sites. Six of the seven causal criteria evaluated provided evidence that observed reproductive effects resulted from exposure to PCBs. Using this weight-of-evidence approach provided a means for establishing the likely cause of effects and thus provided managers with information needed in decision-making processes.

Keywords: PCBs; avian model; biomonitoring; causality; polychlorinated biphenyls; starling

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL 62901-6504, USA 2: CH2M Hill, INC, Sacramento, CA 95833

Publication date: January 1, 2003


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