BRUNSWICK, Ga., Aug. 18 (UPI) -- Contaminants have escaped the confines of a Superfund site near Brunswick, Georgia.
Researchers with the University of Georgia's Savannah River Ecology Laboratory recently found toxic chemicals in birds along the Georgia coast.
Aroclor 1268, a concoction of compounds called polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, was found among six nesting populations of least terns, a migratory fish-eating seabird. The suite of chemicals was used to make insulation materials.
"Because its only use in the Southeast was at the now-closed Linden Chemical Plant, we know this is the original source of the contaminant," Gary Mills, a biogeochemist at SREL, said in a press release.
Due to its history of pollution and mounting evidence of leeching toxins -- including PCBs, mercury and other contaminants -- the land around the plant was declared a Superfund site in 1994, triggering the use of federal funds to clean up the degraded property.
But new research suggests the toxic legacy of the Linden Chemical Plant extends beyond the boundaries of the Superfund site, along the Turtle Estuary, near Brunswick.
Contaminated birds were found as far away as 68 miles north, near Savannah, and 43 miles south, near Kingsland and Cumberland Island.
Birds among all six nesting population showed Aroclor 1268 levels high enough to cause significant defects, including diminished egg production, immune disorders and physical and physiological abnormalities in offspring.
Researchers say the chemicals haven't been distributed by sediment movement, but by throughout the food web by contaminated fish and other small marine species like mollusks.
The worrisome findings were published in the journal Environmental Science: Processes and Impacts.
"Finding Aroclor 1268 in these bird tissues such a long time after its production ceased is evidence of the persistence of the contaminant," the study's senior investigator Sonia M. Hernandez said.