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Pigeon Bioindicators

February 17, 2018

Pigeons serve as indicators of lead levels in city neighborhoods.

Transcript

Pigeons are part of the urban landscape in New York City, and reflect the heavy metal levels of the neighborhoods they inhabit. (Alessandro Valli/CC BY-2.0, via flickr)

Pigeons are part of the urban landscape in New York City, and reflect the heavy metal levels of the neighborhoods they inhabit. (Alessandro Valli/CC BY-2.0, via flickr)

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Toxic pigeons. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Lead in paint and gasoline has been banned for decades, but its residue still lingers in the environment, posing a hazard to children’s developing brains. UC Davis researcher Rebecca Calisi says she’s turned to pigeons to track the heavy metal, because they share our streets.

REBECCA CALISI RODRÍGUEZ (UC Davis):

We want to use pigeons to warn us of dangerous contaminants in our environment  that have a serious negative impact on our health.

HIRSHON:

Over a five-year period, Calisi and her colleague Fayme Cai tested lead levels in pigeons from across New York City.

CALISI RODRÍGUEZ:

Areas that had pigeons that had high lead levels also appeared to be lead hotspots for children as well.

HIRSHON:

At the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Calisi suggested that monitoring pigeons could provide a practical alternative to human testing. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

OR:

At the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Calisi suggested that testing pigeons could be a practical way to pinpoint contamination. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Susanne Bard