Possible relevance of pigeons as an indicator species for monitoring air pollution

Pauline A.E.L. Schilderman, Jurian A. Hoogewerff, Frederik Jan Van Schooten, Lou M. Maas, Edwin J.C. Moonen, Bertil J.H. Van Os, Joop H. Van Wijnen, Jos C.S. Kleinjans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Citations (Scopus)


Wild city pigeons were caught at four different locations in the Netherlands to represent areas of high (Amsterdam-high), moderate (Amsterdam-medium), and low (Maastricht and Assen) traffic density. It is assumed that local ambient air pollution decreases as a function of traffic density. In these pigeons levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH)-DNA adducts, oxidative DNA damage, and heavy metal residues were determined in kidney, lung, liver, and blood (no adduct analysis in blood). The contribution of leaded gasoline to total body lead content was estimated by measuring concentrations of Pb and its isotopes in blood. We also analyzed samples of ambient air particulate matter for PAH and heavy metal concentrations at the four different locations. Interregional differences in heavy metals in ambient air particulate matter were reflected relatively well by pigeon body loads. The highest lead and cadmium concentrations in blood, kidney, liver, and lung were found in the Amsterdam high traffic density area, followed by Amsterdam-medium, Assen, and Maastricht. A high Pb concentration in blood coincided with relatively low 206Pb/207Pb values, indicating a high contribution of leaded gasoline to total blood Pb concentrations in pigeons from the Amsterdam high traffic density area. Significantly enhanced blood zinc values were found in pigeons friom both locations in Amsterdam compared to pigeons from the other two areas. However, no differences in Zn tissue levels between the four different groups were found. Oxidative DNA damage, determined as the ratio of 7-Hydro-8-oxo-2'-deoxyguanosine/deoxyguanosine, in pigeon liver was highest in Amsterdam-high, followed by Assen (low traffic density). Pb content, but not the Cd content, was positively associated with oxidative DNA damage in liver tissue. In lung tissue, a negative correlation was found between oxidative DNA damage and Zn content. These results indicate that the carcinogenic potential of Pb might be ascribed to oxygen radical formation, whereas Zn plays a protective role against oxidative DNA damage. Places with high and medium traffic density could be clearly discriminated on the basis of PAH levels in the ambient air. The PAH content in particulate air samples was not, however, reflected in total PAH-related DNA adduct levels because no differences could be observed in tissue adduct levels in pigeons from the four different locations. Our results indicate that wild city pigeons can be used as biological indicators of exposure to heavy metal pollution in outdoor air.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)322-330
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Health Perspectives
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes


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