For Immediate Release, February 1, 2010
Contact: Shaye Wolf, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 632-5301
Lawsuit Launched to Stop Lead Poisoning of up to 10,000 Albatross Chicks
Each Year on Hawaii's Midway Island
SAN FRANCISCO— The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and affiliated agencies for their failure to clean up toxic, lead-based paint at federal facilities on Midway Atoll that kills up to 10,000 Laysan albatross chicks each year and also threatens the endangered Laysan duck, thereby violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Endangered Species Act, and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
“For too long the Fish and Wildlife Service has stood by while thousands of albatross chicks die needlessly every year,” said Shaye Wolf, a Center biologist. “If they don’t take action to stop this problem, we will.”
A new study published in the journal Animal Conservation found that lead poisoning is killing up to 10,000 chicks per year on Midway, affecting the long-term survival of the Laysan albatross. Dr. Myra Finkelstein, an environmental toxicologist and the study’s lead author, found that chicks near contaminated structures have lethal levels of lead in their blood. Many poisoned chicks develop nervous system damage called “droopwing” that leaves them unable to lift their wings, which drag on the ground and become susceptible to open sores and fractures, leading to slow and painful death.
“It is heart-wrenching to see this problem persist for so many years,” said Finkelstein. “These magnificent birds sometimes experience horrific effects from lead poisoning for months before they finally die.”
The poison source is a decaying military base on Midway Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, part of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Midway is the most important breeding site for the Laysan albatross. The U.S. Navy built its Midway base, later the site of a famous World War II battle, in 1903. When the Fish and Wildlife Service took over responsibility for Midway in 1996, it stopped maintaining most of the 95 military buildings. These structures are shedding toxic lead-paint chips that are then eaten by albatross chicks. Lead contamination also poses a threat to other Midway wildlife, including the highly endangered Laysan duck and 17 other species of seabirds.
The Center’s notice challenges the failure of the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources to abate and dispose of the lead paint, despite the harm it is causing to protected seabirds. The Center is seeking immediate, comprehensive cleanup of lead-contaminated structures and soil so that they no longer harm Midway’s wildlife.
Photos and video of lead-poisoned Laysan albatross chicks are available for use at