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Can pigeons help scientists detect lead poisoning?

People are concerned about lead poisoning due to undetected contamination. Now it looks like pigeons might be able to help humans. A new study published in the journal Chemosphere found that where children in certain New York City neighborhoods had elevated lead blood levels- so did the local pigeons.

If even a small amount of lead builds up in the body over a period of months or years, it can cause serious health problems. According to the Mayo Clinic, children under the age of 6 are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning because of how severely it can affect development. Lead-based paint and dust from old buildings are the most common way children- and birds, so it would seem, are exposed to it.

Using data from the NYC Health Department and The Wild Bird Fund, a nonprofit that rehabilitates birds, researchers determined that pigeons could one day be used to detect pollution in cities across the country. Pigeons are well-suited to this because they walk the same streets, breathe the same air, and basically eat the same food as urban dwellers- and they don't migrate, usually living their whole lives within the same square mile.

The press secretary for the health department said that the city already has a "robust" system for monitoring lead exposure, but the researchers are excited about the possibilities of someday using pigeons to monitor other heavy metals, pesticides, and other toxins worldwide.