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For Immediate Release, June 18, 2012

Contact: Shaye Wolf, (415) 632-5301

Settlement Will Protect Pacific Seabirds From Lead Poisoning

Agreement Requires Cleanup of Lead Paint That Yearly Kills 10,000 Laysan Albatross on
Far Pacific's Midway Atoll

SAN FRANCISCO— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service entered into a settlement today with the Center for Biological Diversity that requires the agency to clean up toxic, lead-based paint on Midway Atoll in the Hawaiian archipelago. This poisonous, lead-based paint kills up to 10,000 Laysan albatross chicks each year and also threatens the endangered Laysan duck. Today’s agreement is a result of a notice of intent to sue filed by the Center over the Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure to remediate the situation of hazardous waste harming protected birds — a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Endangered Species Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

“Midway Atoll provides unparalleled nesting habitat for albatross, which fly thousands of miles over the Pacific Ocean in search of food and return to the atoll to nest each year. Without this cleanup, their amazing efforts would continue to be wasted as chicks die of lead poisoning,” said Shaye Wolf, a Center biologist.

The settlement agreement requires completion of the cleanup in 2017 and allows the Center or third parties potential access to test for contaminants in the Laysan duck. Midway Atoll was used for many decades as a U.S. military base and still has several sources of pollution. The cleanup required by the settlement applies to existing military buildings that shed toxic, lead-based paint chips that are then eaten by albatross chicks and potentially other seabirds.

“The service’s agreement to finally clean up this dangerous lead-based paint is an important step toward returning this tiny island to its rightful role as a haven, not a deadly trap, for wildlife,” said Wolf.

Scientists estimate that lead poisoning kills up to 10,000 chicks per year on Midway, affecting the long-term survival of the Laysan albatross. 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.

Protecting albatross chicks from poisoning is especially important now. The March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan killed an estimated 110,000 Laysan and black-footed albatross chicks — about 22 percent of the year's young — at Midway Atoll, where more than two-thirds of the world’s Laysan albatross nest. At least 2,000 adults were also killed by the tsunami that washed over Midway's three low-lying islands. The albatross are also threatened in the United States and internationally by long-line fisheries and accelerating sea-level rise.

Midway Atoll may also become important nesting habitat for the highly endangered short-tailed albatross. The first confirmed hatching of a short-tailed albatross chick in the United States occurred in January 2011 on Midway Atoll, and the breeding pair that raised it returned to hatch another chick in 2012.

Photos and video of lead-poisoned Laysan albatross chicks are available for use here.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 375,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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