For Immediate Release
February 17, 1999

Contact: Tom MacKenzie

Organochlorines are preliminary cause of death in birds and fish near Lake Apopka, Florida

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced its preliminary findings that organochlorine chemicals appear to be killing birds and fish near Lake Apopka, Florida.

More than 300 white pelicans, 23 endangered wood storks, 50 other fish-eating birds (great blue herons, cormorants, ring-billed gulls, common egrets), and three bald eagles have died near the lake, northwest of Orlando, Florida.

"The birds are preying on the fish in ditches and small pools northeast of the lake,"said Dale Hall, Acting Regional Director for the Southeastern Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "The birds become sick and die after eating the contaminated fish."

Biologists think that sufficient levels of organochlorines are being accumulated by fish in the ponds and ditches on the land off the northeast part of the lake resulting in the deaths of these birds. The Service is also concerned that there may be adverse effects on mammals, including people, who have had direct contact with the soils from the area.

This problem is compounded by the possible presence of multiple chemicals which together have an additive effect that greatly increases the lethal action of any single chemical, multiplying the lethality. Test results are pending that will identify which specific organochlorines are involved.

Hall went on to warn that people should avoid contact with any sick or dead birds and avoid eating fish caught in the area. The migratory patterns of the birds involved range the length of the state of Florida, as well as into parts of Georgia.

Local aviators and experimental aircraft pilots have been asked to avoid low level flights over Lake Apopka, which can cause the birds to disperse into the danger zone.

"We would like to do everything we can to keep birds away from an area of about 13,000 acres northeast of Lake Apopka in Orange County and alleviate any undesirable stress on the birds," said Hall.

The Service will continue to investigate this situation and will work cooperatively with the other federal, state and local agencies and organizations involved to help identify the cause and possible remediation.

The site is currently a feeding and resting site for 12.5 percent (1,500-2,000 birds) of the Florida population of wood storks, an endangered species. There are an estimated 11,000 wood storks in the United States today.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprised of more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts.

Release #: R99-022

1999 News Releases

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