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Michigan State UniversityWildlife Toxicology Laboratory

Kalamazoo River Wildlife Banner Photo


The Michigan State University – Wildlife Toxicology Laboratory (MSU-WTL) conducted a site-specific, multi-year, multi-line of evidence study examining wildlife health as it pertained to potential exposures and effects of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) within the Kalamazoo River watershed. The five-year study served the public interest by providing real, site-specific data for effective science-based decision-making as well as the advancement of science pertaining to environmental exposures and effects of PCBs on wildlife. The then present lack of site-specific biological data made it difficult to predict risks to any Kalamazoo River wildlife.

The studies carried out by the MSU-WTL were used to determine the actual exposures and population level responses of wildlife receptors. The study elucidated site-specific and congener-specific stressor exposure and population health for those ecological receptors that were identified as being of greatest priority. The studies conducted were of two types, exposure studies and effects studies. Exposure studies gathered site-specific data on the concentrations of individual PCB congeners in food web items. This, combined with site-specific dietary data, directly defined PCB exposures, thereby minimizing the need for conservative exposure assumptions. Effects studies examined site-specific receptor health and fecundity at both the individual and population levels.

The project investigated aquatic and terrestrial environments that included both field and laboratory components. The groups of animals studied included, songbirds (eastern bluebirds, house wrens and tree swallows), small mammals (voles and mice), the semi aquatic muskrats and American mink, great horned owls, bald eagles, fish, frogs and turtles. The project was conducted by a team of postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, technicians and undergraduate student aids. Research into each unique group of receptor species was lead by a graduate research assistant.

In 1990, approximately 125 km (~80 mi) of the Kalamazoo River was designated a Superfund site, referred to as the Kalamazoo River Area of Concern (KRAOC). The site extends from Morrow Dam in Kalamazoo County to Lake Michigan. The release of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), the contaminant of concern (COC), resulted primarily from PCB-contaminated waste discharged from the recycling and processing of carbon-less copy paper. During the project, which was conducted year-round for 5 years, the field team worked closely, living in a “field house” at Michigan State University’s Kellogg Biological Station.

This site was designed to provide residents, landowners, and stakeholders with information regarding our research, which was made possible by the cooperation of numerous landowners throughout the area, to whom we are extremely grateful.