Baby mink jeopardized by toxic chemicals in N.Y.

Mink. Credit: Doug Racine.

Hudson River mink are getting heavy doses of toxic chemicals from their PCB-contaminated food and shelter, which could be killing their babies and jeopardizing their numbers. Credit: Doug Racine.

Kathryn Jahn

Today you’re hearing from Kathryn Jahn, case manager for the Department of the Interior (of which U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is a bureau) for the Hudson River Natural Resource Damage Assessment. She has worked on the Hudson River case since 2000 and oversees our agency’s involvement in the process of determining how natural resources have been harmed by exposure to PCBs, and what sort of restoration is required to address such harm.

In the early 1970s, toxic compounds known as polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, were discovered in the water, fish and sediment of the Hudson River below General Electric Company’s plants at Hudson Falls and Fort Edward in New York.

Those PCBs have contaminated the surface water, groundwater, sediments and floodplains of the Hudson River. We find that living resources at every level of the Hudson River’s food chains are contaminated with PCBs. We believe that serious adverse effects are likely to be occurring to wildlife exposed to this PCB contamination in the Hudson River.

A whole team of people (see the below list) are using their individual and collective expertise to address the problem of PCB contamination in the Hudson River and its effect on wildlife. My favorite part of this job is the teamwork among all the people working on this issue, and the interactions with our experts and the public.

We know that PCBs can cause serious harm to wildlife and other natural resources. Although a cleanup funded by GE is underway for certain sections of the Hudson River, the dredging GE is doing will leave some areas still contaminated with PCBs.


The responsibility for restoring natural resources that have been injured by hazardous substances (like PCBs) belongs to federal, state and tribal trustees, through a natural resource damage assessment.

For the Hudson River, the trustees are U.S. Department of Commerce (through NOAAcheck out their blog), U.S. Department of the Interior (through FWS), and State of New York (through NY DEC).

As trustees, we are stewards of the public’s natural resources. Our goal is to restore the Hudson River so that wildlife can thrive and people can more fully enjoy the River.

The dredging also cannot compensate for past effects of this PCB contamination on the Hudson River’s natural resources. For example, dredging will not make up for all the years that public use of the Hudson River fishery has been impaired by fish consumption advisories. Dredging will not return that lost use to the public.

In our planning to determine the effects of PCBs on wildlife, we identified mink health as one area to investigate. Mink are vulnerable to the effects of PCBs. Hudson River mink eat PCB-contaminated fish and other small creatures, and they ingest contaminated water, soil, and sediments as they look for food and build their dens. This led us to suspect that Hudson River mink might be being harmed by PCBs in their environment.

In a study we conducted, the results of which have just been published, farm-raised mink were fed a diet containing fish from the upper Hudson River. Baby mink born to the parents that ate the diet made with PCB-contaminated fish from the Hudson River were much more likely to die early in life than those that ate food with less PCB contamination. I spoke to the media about this important new research and you can read more about this study in the two news articles below.

GE facilities in Hudson Falls and Ft. Edward, N.Y., discharged PCBs in the Hudson River. Original location of map.

GE facilities in Hudson Falls and Ft. Edward, N.Y., discharged PCBs in the Hudson River.

This mink research helps show us the extent of the injuries to the mink, so that in thinking about restoration options for the Hudson River, we can consider the need for actions to help the animals recover. Over the years we’ve been gathering restoration ideas from the public, and a number of those ideas – including additional removal of contaminated sediment, removal of dams that restrict fish access to streams, or shoreline habitat improvements – would benefit mink, as well as other wildlife.

We’re continuing to study the effects of PCBs on Hudson River mink. This spring, we’ll be conducting a study that entails on-the-ground work to determine the mink’s numbers, and uses specially trained dogs that can find mink poop! You can read more about this and other work we’re doing on our site, and we invite you to join our list serve for regular updates on our activities.

Mink at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Don Cooper.

Mink at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Don Cooper.

9 thoughts on “Baby mink jeopardized by toxic chemicals in N.Y.

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  5. Ron Bartlett

    I just lost my 10yr old lab to cancer on 4/25/14, A few weeks ago I lost my cat to skin cancer, My vet made the comment to me after putting my lab down, “leave that house”. we live on the Hudson just across from Stillwater and both pets have been here all thier lives. DEC told us not to fill our pool with the river water but our pets were safe…. You might consider a study on how true that is. Both would take a drink every day if it wasn’t frozen. The vet had never seen this type of skin cancer in his practice.

    1. usfwsnortheastblog Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Ron. I’m very sorry to hear about the illness and loss of your lab and cat. PCBs have been shown to cause cancer in animals, but it would be really tough to figure out what caused these cancers in your pets. While we can’t explore this further (because looking at the health of pets exposed to the contaminated Hudson River is outside the scope of our work as trustees), I thank you for sharing your story with us and encourage you to reach out to the EPA if you have concerns about the level of PCB contamination around your home. – Kathryn

      U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – Region 2
      Hudson River Field Office
      421 Lower Main St.
      Hudson Falls, NY 12839
      (518) 747-4389
      (866) 615-6490 toll-free

      1. Ron Bartlett

        Morning Kathryn
        Just to follow up on this point, GE reps were here yesterday to tell us they were going to be dredging in our part of the river this summer and to prepair for noise , take docks out, etc. I asked for a look at his map of the future areas(Sites) where they will be concentrating thier digging. this is a very accurate map, not one they publish to the general public, and of all the areas around my lot, they will be directly off of my beach , Just a few feet of my property, an area about the size of aprox. 1/2 acer . My point is my lab swam in that water off his property because DEC or EPA
        (we get misinformation for both),told us it was safe for our pets. I’m telling you it must not be. Three pets dead in the past 3 months,where is the Dog/cat/Mink study on that?

      2. usfwsnortheastblog Post author

        Hi Ron, thanks for your comments. It’s important to understand that Trustees can’t measure the harm caused to dogs and cats, because (although they are beloved) they are not natural resources like mink and other wild animals. It seems you just learned a good bit of information about the PCB contamination around your home. I encourage you to continue speaking to GE and EPA about these questions. If you have concerns related to your health or the health of your animals, contact the NYS Department of Health.

        Although Trustees can’t measure the harm to dogs and cats exposed to PCBs in the Hudson River, we are looking at other ways PCBs have impaired the public’s use and enjoyment of the river, and potential options to restore those uses. If you have ideas on ways to increase recreation, for example, along the river, we’d welcome hearing them. Please feel free to email me if you’d like to discuss any of this further.

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