Our Stolen Futurea book by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers
 
 

 

 

An excerpt from Chapter 1, Omens

 

 
 

1970: Lake Ontario
The sight of the herring gull colony on Near Island was overwhelming, even for a seasoned biologist like Mike Gilbertson. This was the time when the gulls should be busily feeding their squawking, demanding brood, but what the Canadian Wildlife Service biologist found instead was a scene of devastation. As he walked through the barren sandy expanse where the gulls breed and raise their young, he encountered unhatched eggs and abandoned nests everywhere, and here and there, dead chicks.

In a quick count, Gilbertson estimated that 80 percent of the chicks had died before they hatched, an extraordinary number. As he examined the dead chicks, he saw grotesque deformities. Some had adult feathers instead of down, club feet, missing eyes, twisted bills. Others looked shriveled and wasted, and they still had the yolk sack attached, suggesting they hadn't been able to use its energy for development.

Something about the symptoms seemed vaguely familiar, but Gilbertson knew he had never seen them in the field. Where had he heard about this before? The question nagged at him as he completed his melancholy tour and headed back by boat to his laboratory.

A few days later, it suddenly came back to him. Chick edema disease-an affliction he had read about as a student in England. The same deformities and wasting had shown up in the offspring of chickens exposed to dioxin in laboratory experiments. If the dead gulls had all the symptoms of chick edema disease, he thought, there must be dioxin contamination in the Great Lakes.

Gilbertson's colleagues and superiors greeted this theory with skepticism bordering on derision. Some doubted his diagnosis perhaps because dioxin had never been reported in the lake, a doubt that only deepened when analysis on gull eggs with the methods then available could find no trace of dioxin.

Gilbertson neverthless remained convinced that Great Lakes birds were showing signs of dioxin contamination, but he found no support for pursuing his theory.

 

 

 

 

 

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