Mercury Contamination Trends in Feathers of Peregrine Falcons (Falco peregrinus) in Coastal Washington

Venue: The 4th International Conference on Environmental Pollution and Health, Tianjin, China

My letter of invitation to attend and make a presentation at the 4th International 

Conference on Environmental Pollution and Health in Tianjin, China.


Dr. Da Chen. Da was a research toxicologist at 

Southern Illinois University until securing a position 

in 2017 at Jinan University in Guangzhou, China.  



Between 2013 and 2017, Coastal Raptors sent Da 113 blood 

plasma samples collected from Peregrine Falcons for contaminant 

analysis. The samples were obtained from 83 peregrines banded 

by Coastal Raptors on the Washington coast, 2000-2016. These 

samples are especially valuable because: 1) they were collected 

over many years, and 2) a number of the peregrines were 

recaptured and re-sampled  subsequent to their initial capture date. 

These samples therefore provide important insight into contaminant 

exposure in coastal Peregrine Falcons over time.


Da has analyzed the samples for DDE (primary breakdown product of DDT), 

PCBs, fire retardants and other contaminants. While DDT and PCB use has been 

banned in the US, these chemicals still persist in the environment. Fire retardants 

have been added to products such as furniture, electronics and carpeting to reduce 

the risk of fire-related injuries, and have emerged as a contaminant threat in 

recent years. Despite having been trapped and blood sampled on Washington’s 

outer coast far from population centers, contaminant levels in a number of the 

peregrines tested were surprisingly high.


Da offered me the opportunity to participate in the conference, with expenses 

paid by Jinan University. Having never been to China, this was an opportunity 

I could not refuse! After a 14-hour flight, a change of planes in Shenzhen, China, 

and then a 3-hour flight, I arrived in Tianjin.


I was greeted at the airport by ChangHong Wei, a student at Nankai University 

where the conference was held. Nankai students helped out at the conference, 

attended, and made presentations. ChangHong and I been in touch by text message 

and email. I was very happy to meet him and get a ride to my hotel. I thanked

him for his efforts (my plane arrived at 11:00 PM, local time) and made sure he 

got a Coastal Raptors hat.


I was among many long-distance travelers attending the conference. There were 

people attending from the US, Canada, France, Taiwan, Japan and other countries.


Epicenter of conference activity, the Student Center at Nankai University. 


Inside the Student Center.

Conference program book. The book’s Preface described the 

inspiration for the conference, and read in part:


China is the world’s most populated country and has experienced great tensions between the mankind and the nature. The high-speed economic development and urbanization have brought a variety of critical environmental problems including ecological deterioration and negative health effects on human beings…To resolve this dilemma, the Chinese government has proposed the concept and strategy of ecological civilization for the first time…It encourages frequent collaborations among domestic and oversea experts to reveal the distribution patterns, ecotoxicity, and human exposure risks of legacy and emerging contaminants and pathogenic microorganisms as well as to develop innovative sustainable technologies on environmental remediation, water treatment, and resource utilization.

Jason. Jason was asked by Da to look after me during the conference. 

The two are colleagues at Jinan University. Da was unable to attend 

the conference due to a schedule conflict. It was really helpful having 

Jason there to show me around and answer questions. He arranged to 

have my lodging and registration fees charged to Jinan University.  


Jason’s conference name tag shows his full name in Chinese... 

far easier for me to go with the name Jason!


My presentation in China, shared below, was on mercury contamination in 

Peregrine Falcon feathers. The feather samples for this research were collected at 

the same time the aforementioned blood samples were collected. Given the ease 

of collecting feather samples, our sample of feathers is larger. 


My presentation (PDF download).
Given that English was the second language for most everyone in the audience, 

I kept the presentation simple.

Joe Barnes. Special thanks to Joe Barnes for taking the lead on the mercury in 

peregrine feathers research.  A wildlife biologist in Nevada, Joe had access to a 

lab at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas where he analyzed the feather samples. 

With assistance from statistician Cheryl Vanier, Joe analyzed the data and is lead 

author on a scientific paper, currently in review, on the findings. His co-authors 

include me, Joe Buchanan and Tracy Fleming. 

A real highlight of my visit to China was being treated to dinner by students 

from Nankai University:  ChangHong Wei (sitting across from me), Tong Lei 

Shi (behind ChangHong) and Hui Zeng. ChangHong picked me up at the airport 

the day before and arranged this get together. I liked their beer…I had a little 

trouble with chopsticks! All four are environmental science majors. After dinner 

we stopped by the environmental science and engineering building and toured a lab. 


ChangHong Wei and Hui Zeng.