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.
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.
|WHO ARE NATURAL RESOURCE TRUSTEES?
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 NOAA – check 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.
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.