The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

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


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

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.

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 Papahanaumokuakea 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 that are coated with
layers of lead-based paint. These deteriorating 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

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.

(520) 623-5252