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Could be canary in coal mine for lead in Sheepshead Bay, says vet

Brooklyn Daily
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They got the lead out of the bird — but who’s going to get the lead out of the bay?

A swan that was found off of Emmons Avenue suffering from lead poisoning in June has since been released to a life of luxury at a nature center in Stamford, Connecticut, but the veterinary volunteers who nursed the bird back to health are more certain than ever that the bird was poisoned as a result of lead pollution in the water or soil of the environment where she was found — Sheepshead Bay.

“It’s probable that she was poisoned where she was found,” said Rita McMahon, co-founder of the Wild Bird Fund.

The swan, which this paper has affectionately named Leady on account of her ailment, was found conscious but unable to move on E. 19th Street near Emmons Avenue, and sent to the Wild Bird Fund in Manhattan, a non-profit veterinary service for wild birds.

There, McMahon and her volunteer staff diagnosed Leady’s condition, though they were uncertain at first whether the swan had ingested a hunk of the noxious metal, or if it had absorbed it through its environment.

But after vets at the Wild Bird Fund X-rayed the ailing swan, they found that her stomach didn’t contain any pieces of lead. This has led them to believe the bird most likely absorbed the poison from water or mud contaminated with the dangerous heavy metal — which can cause severe neurological and developmental problems in animals and humans.

“We performed X-rays and she hadn’t ingested any lead,” said McMahon. “What that means is she got it from her environment, either the water or the mud.”

McMahon said that while she can’t be sure, the lead likely came from where the bird was discovered, noting that often the first sign a region is polluted with lead are when animals there turn up sick from the contamination.

In fact, McMahon cited her fears of lead pollution as a reason why she sent Leady to the Stamford Museum and Nature Center, where the bird could live a lead-free life with a male and another female swan.

Leady, whose wings have been clipped to prevent escape, has been getting along well with the other swans in Stamford, although co-manager Victoria Mar said that romance has yet to bloom between Leady and the male swan, Gregory.

But Leady shouldn’t take it personally, according to Mar, because swans mate for life, and since Gregory had already found love in another swan, which has since passed, it would be unusual if the widower ever loved again.

“They usually mate for life, so we weren’t really expecting them to go at it,” said Mar. “They are tolerating each other, though.”

The city’s Department of Environmental Protection was unaware of the possible lead contamination at the time they were contacted by this paper, although its water quality staff will be following up the threat with an investigation, according to a spokesman for the agency.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which polices soil contamination throughout the state, was not able to supply a comment before deadline.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at or by calling (718) 260-4514.

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