Toxicologists explore cause of Indiana bird deaths

July 30, 2014

Residual contamination at the site of one of America's worst chemical disasters may still be having a negative effect on local wildlife, according to new reports.

In the small town of St. Louis, Michigan, residents are noticing an odd sight: dead birds keep appearing on the ground. After toxicologists conducted testing of numerous birds, they found that the creatures we being poisoned by DDT—a pesticide that was banned in the U.S. more than four decades ago.

How could a long-gone chemical be killing birds today? The answer can be found at the site of the former Velsicol Chemical Corp. The area has a storied history. According to an article on the Indianapolis, Indiana alt-weekly NUVO News, the site was once home to Michigan Chemical, which manufactured pesticides like DDT until it was banned. But Velsicol had it's own share of problems—though it was shut down in 1978, it still contaminated the surrounding area thanks to poor chemical disposal practices. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took over the site of the company in 1982 and demolished the plant several years later. Though the area was classified as a Superfund site, some residents argued that the EPA was focusing on too narrow of an area and ignoring the effects that the facility had on the wider region. In fact, it was only in 2006 when state officials tested the yards of residents and found traces of DDT.

The fate of the birds suggests that there is still significant cleanup work to do in St. Louis. Stakeholders may need to work with environmental consultants to ensure that this area is remediated.