The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reached an agreement with a non-profit conservation group to accelerate abatement of lead-paint contamination that kills “thousands” of Laysan albatross chicks annually at Midway Atoll in the Pacific Ocean.
Center for Biological Diversity
|Photo of albatross chick affected by lead poisoning, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.|
The conservation group called the agreement “an important step toward returning this tiny island to its rightful role as a haven, not a deadly trap, for wildlife.”
The Center for Biological Diversity, based in Arizona, in 2010 filed a “notice of intent to sue,” alleging that old lead-based paint from federal facilities at Midway kills up to 10,000 Laysan albatross chicks each year, while also threatening the endangered Laysan duck and other bird species. The center this week announced a settlement agreement that spells out a program to complete the cleanup program by 2017.
Shaye Wolf, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, told D+D News that the agreement sets out a timetable that will expand lead-paint remediation activities involving old military buildings on Midway.
“The notice [to sue] laid out the problem and the violations of different laws” that the ongoing existence of lead contamination caused, Wolf said.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
|Previous lead-based paint remediation activities have been carried out on 24 of 95 buildings on Midway. Shown here is concrete repair and lead-based paint encapsulation under way on a barracks in 2005.|
She said the notice to sue spurred the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct “more serious analysis” of a remediation program and determine the cost. The agency then obtained Superfund financing for the cleanup, and agreed to a timetable calling for the program to be completed by 2017, she said.
“Midway Atoll provides unparalleled nesting habitat for albatross, which fly thousands of miles over the Pacific Ocean in search of food and return to the atoll to nest each year,” Wolf said in an announcement on the agreement by the Center for Biological Diversity. “Without this cleanup, their amazing efforts would continue to be wasted as chicks die of lead poisoning.”
Photos and a video of poisoned albatross chicks can be viewed on the Center for Biological Diversity website.
Midway Atoll, also called Midway Island and Midway islands, is a ring-shaped barrier reef and several sand islets located on the western edge of the Hawaiian archipelago. Two major landforms, Sand Island and Eastern Island, provide habitat for millions of seabirds.
The atoll also is the site of the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Extensive Lead Contamination
The Fish and Wildlife Service in June 2010 authorized an expanded program to assess and execute a program to address the lead contamination, with cleanup activities to be paid by the Superfund program.
The Fish and Wildlife Service said studies conducted by the service itself and others at Sand Island between the late 1980s and 2009 showed that Laysan albatross chicks exhibited symptoms of lead toxicity and that their exposure is likely related to ingestion of lead-based paint chips and soil contaminated with those chips. The primary source of the paint chips is the buildings and structures on Sand sland, some of which date back to the early 1900s, the service said.
Joan Jewett, a spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific office in Portland, Ore., said the agency initiated a long-term program to address the lead-based paint problem well before the Center for Biological Diversity threatened legal action.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
|Fish and Wildlife Service contractor Northwest Demolition and Environmental in fall 2011 placed shade cloth around several buildings on Midway to prevent impacts to petrels, Laysan ducks and albatrosses while lead-based paint is remediated, and to prevent birds from ingesting lead from soils in the covered areas.|
“The lead-based paint on these old buildings and its impact on Laysan albatross chicks and other birds is of great concern to us,” Jewett said. “We have been working since 2005 to address this, dependent on the availability of funding.”
Jewett said FWS has cleaned up lead-based paint from 26 buildings, with the total clean-up of 95 affected buildings expected to cost $21 million. Six buildings are slated for demolition.
Jewett provided the following details about the project.
- In July 2011, Northwest Demolition and Environmental (NWDE) of Tigard, Ore., was awarded the contact to continue the remediation of lead-based paint at Midway under a year-to-year contract with six option years to complete the work.
- Approximately 69 more buildings and the soil around them will be remediated. A product called Maectite will be used to remediate and stabilize the lead in the soil, which will then be stored in a concrete lined cistern and capped.
- In fall 2011, NWDE placed shade cloth around the following buildings: Cold Storage, Transportation, Paint Shop, Ski Warehouse, Torpedo Shop, Metal Shop, Carpentry Shop, Cable Buildings, and Marine Barracks. The shade cloth will prevent impacts to petrels, Laysan ducks and albatrosses while lead-based paint is remediated and will prevent birds from ingesting lead from the soils in the covered areas.
- The paint crew finished abatement and painting of the Cold Storage Building, Torpedo Shop and Machine Shop.
- NWDE finished the first phase of lead-based paint remediation activities and left Midway in November 2011. The lead abatement/painting team will return at the end of June 2012 to continue work on areas where shade cloth has been laid, while other team members will do soil excavation and demolition after the albatross chicks fledge in July.
FWS said that while 18 other species of seabirds also nest on the island, as well as Laysan ducks and three other species of land birds, lead-based paint impacts are focused on Laysan albatross chicks due to the species’ behavior and their tendency to nest close to buildings.
Returning Midway to 'Haven, Not a Deadly Trap'
The Center for Biological Diversity said the agreement with the government allows it and other third parties the opportunity to monitor the results of the lead-cleanup program and test for contaminants in the Laysan duck.
The Center for Biological Diversity also said Midway Atoll may also become important nesting habitat for the highly endangered short-tailed albatross. The first confirmed hatching of a short-tailed albatross chick in the U.S. occurred in January 2011 on Midway Atoll, and the breeding pair that raised it returned to hatch another chick in 2012, the group said.