Pigeons May Help Detect Lead

pigeons NYC

Because they live so close to us, pigeons can help detect pollutants that affect the health of children.

Pigeons have a quite negative image in the city. However, scientists discovered that they could also be useful as they could detect the high level of lead and other toxic substances that may be present in human habitats and communities.

In New York City, blood samples taken from injured or sick pigeons have shown that the quantity of lead in the town rose between 2010 and 2015. When compared with the toxicity level found in blood samples from children, the numbers were in exact correlation.

The study investigated other cities and discovered that the same rule applied. The lead levels in the blood of the birds were in perfect relation with the toxicity found in kid’s blood.

“Pigeons breathe the same air, walk the same sidewalks, and often eat the same food as we do. What if we could use them to monitor possible dangers to our health in the environment, like lead pollution?” said Rebecca Calisi, the leading author of the study.

The research had been performed by an assistant professor at the University of California in collaboration with the Columbia University in New York City.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that elevated lead levels can produce lower IQ levels in kids and incapacity of paying attention.

The team of scientists does not yet know what may be the source of the lead that was found in the cities. The lead in the gasoline had been banned for years, and even though some homes may still have paint that has lead in its composition, this would not get the pigeons exposed to the chemical.

The current hypothesis is that the toxic substance comes from roads and construction places. The birds can pick up gravel to help with their digestion, and children may bring the lead on their shoes after they enter home.

In Europe, the birds are already used to monitor pollution. However, this would be the first study that enables a connection between the levels of lead found in pigeons and toxicity in children. The authors stress the fact that this would be a powerful example of how the birds could help monitor pollutants in terms of location and prevalence.

As they dwell in the areas between city blocks and they regularly don’t change position, the pigeons may be the perfect indicators of pollution in the urban zones.

The researchers are now exploring how they could use the birds to monitor for other toxic substances, such as fire retardants, pesticides or heavy metals.

Image Source: Wikipedia

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