A comprehensive evaluation of chemical contaminant loads in waterfowl at a flyway spatial scale is lacking to adequately assess the health of waterfowl and the potential impact on hunters who consume them. Waterfowl hunters in the Atlantic Flyway harvest approximately 1.5 million ducks and more than 450,000 geese, annually. In the northeast portion of the Atlantic flyway, it has been three decades since a study has assessed the levels of legacy compounds, such as mercury. Contemporary compounds, such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), have not been assessed in waterfowl. The 200,000 waterfowl hunters in the Atlantic Flyway need better information about contaminant levels in wild waterfowl to make informed decisions about species consumption safety.

Flock of mallard ducks flying over water

Our goal in the waterfowl contaminant study is to collect data capable of allowing state wildlife agencies and health departments in a four-state area (NY, NJ, PA, and CT) to update consumption advisories for waterfowl given information on the levels of chemical contaminants. Current consumption advisories are based on old data, are relatively broad by species, and not particularly informative, which may dissuade new or cautious hunters from pursuing waterfowl. Data resulting from this study will also inform wildlife agencies of the need (or not) to conduct further intensive surveillance to understand the impact of these contaminants on waterfowl populations based more specifically on species, location, or compound.

Using a statistically robust study design, tissue samples have been collected from five species of hunter-harvested ducks and geese (mallard, American black duck, Canada goose, American green-winged teal, and wood duck) across 13 ecoregions in the four-state area. Laboratory analysis will determine the levels of six types of contaminants (PCBs, dioxins, furans, organochlorine pesticides, mercury, and PFAS) in waterfowl across the study area.