Metal levels in eggs of waterbirds in the New York Harbor (USA): Trophic relationships and possible risk to human consumers

Joanna Burger, Susan Elbin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Health professionals are interested in evaluating the risks that heavy metals pose to eco-receptors and humans. The objective of this study was to examine levels of mercury (Hg), lead (Pb), cadmium (Cd), and other contaminants in waterbirds nesting in the New York harbor in 2012 to determine (1) whether there were species and locational differences, and (2) whether consumption of eggs posed a health risk to predators or humans. For arsenic (As), Pb, Hg, and selenium (Se), species contributed more to variations in levels than location; for Cd and chromium (Cr), location was more significant. Mean metal levels differed among species for all metals, except Cd. Highest levels were As (great black-backed gulls, Larus marinus), Cr (great egret, Ardea alba), Pb (Canada goose, Branta canadensis), and Hg and Se (black-crowned night heron, Nycticorax nycticorax). There were significant locational differences only for herring gulls (Larus argentatus); significant differences were found for all metals. Levels of Hg and Pb may be sufficiently high in eggs of some species to produce adverse effects in predators that eat them. The proportion of samples above 0.3 ppm Hg (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] freshwater criteria for freshwater fish), the contaminant of health concern, ranged from 0% (Canada goose, great egret), to 14 and 27% in gulls, to 50% (black-crowned night heron). Some herring gull, great black-backed gull, and black-crowned night heron eggs had 0.5 ppm or higher Hg. Thus, human consumption of eggs may pose a risk to fetuses and young children.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)78-91
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Toxicology and Environmental Health - Part A: Current Issues
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 17 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Toxicology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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