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Assessment of risks to ground-feeding songbirds from lead in the Coeur d'Alene Basin, Idaho, USA



Previous assessment of ecological risks within the Coeur d'Alene River Basin identified Pb as a key risk driver for ground-feeding songbirds. Because this conclusion was based almost exclusively on literature data, its strength was determined to range from low to moderate. With the support of the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), the US Fish and Wildlife Service collected site-specific data to address the uncertainty associated with Pb risks to songbirds. These data, plus those from the previous Coeur d'Alene Basin ecological risk assessment, were integrated, and risks to ground-feeding songbirds were reevaluated. These site-specific data were also used to develop updated preliminary remedial goals (PRGs) for Pb in soils that would be protective of songbirds. Available data included site-specific Pb concentrations in blood, liver, and ingesta from 3 songbird species (American robin, song sparrow, and Swainson's thrush), colocated soil data, and soil data from other locations in the basin. Semi-log regression models based on the association between soil Pb and tissue Pb concentrations were applied to measured soil concentrations from the previous risk assessment to estimate Pb exposures in riparian and adjacent upland habitats throughout the Coeur d'Alene Basin. Measured and estimated tissue or dietary exposure was tabulated for 3 areas plus the reference, and then compared to multiple effects measures. As many as 6 exposure-effect metrics were available for assessing risk in any one area. Analyses of site-specific tissue- and diet-based exposure data indicate that exposure of ground-feeding songbirds to Pb in the Coeur d'Alene Basin is sufficient to result in adverse effects. Because this conclusion is based on multiple exposure-effect metrics that include site-specific data, the strength of this conclusion is high. Ecological PRGs were developed by integrating the site-specific regression models with tissue and dietary effect levels to create exposure models, which were solved for the soil concentration that produced an exposure estimate equal to the effect level (i.e., the ecological PRG). The lowest PRG obtained for any species' exposure-effect measure combination was 490 mg/kg for subclinical effects due to Pb in the blood of American robins; the highest was 7200 mg/kg for severe clinical effects due to Pb in the blood of song sparrows. Because the lowest ground-feeding songbird PRG was comparable to multiple cleanup goals developed for the basin (i.e., soil invertebrates, wildlife populations, and human health), in addition to the site-specific cleanup level of 530 mg Pb/kg sediment for the protection of waterfowl (USEPA 2002) the USEPA has made a risk-management determination that a site-specific Pb cleanup level of 530 mg/kg in soil would be protective of songbirds in the Coeur d'Alene Basin. Integr Environ Assess Manag 2011;7:596–611. © 2011 SETAC