Lead levels in the blood of Mute swans Cygnus olor on the River thames

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Abstract

In this paper blood lead levels in three categories of Mute swan are examined, (i) flock birds (ii) breeding birds and (iii) cygnets. From these regional, seasonal and sex variation for both 1980 and 1981 was examined. In addition a portable haematofluorometer was assessed to determine its possible use as an alternative to atomic absorption and spectrophotometry for determining a measure of lead exposure.

Very few swans on the River Thames had blood lead levels below the maximum acceptable level of 40 mgg/100 ml. In general lead levels increased with proximity to London and the swans on the tributaries consistently had the lowest levels which were always below the maximum acceptable level. Blood lead levels in flock birds were shown to be highest during the coarse fishing season and it was only during the close season that levels dropped to around 40 m̀g/1OO ml. Breeding females had significantly higher lead levels than males and females with lead levels in excess of 200 m̀g/1OO ml seemed to have a poor chance of producing cygnets or surviving to the next breeding season. Cygnet mortality was significantly higher on the lower Thames where blood lead levels were also known to be at their highest.

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