White phosphorus (P4) has been extensively used by the military for various purposes including marking artillery impacts and as an obscurant. Target practice in an Alaskan tidal marsh during the last four decades has deposited large amounts of P4 particles in sediments and water which have resulted in die-offs of several waterfowl species. Because the toxicity of P4 in birds has not been well documented and because it is quickly excreted or metabolized in living animals, we sought to determine the effects of experimental dosing on blood characteristics in game farm mallards (Anas platyrhynchos). In two experiments, one employing single doses of 5.4 mg P4/kg body weight in corn oil and the other using daily repeated doses of pelletized P4 at either 0.5 or 1.0 mg/kg, there were significant changes in AST, ALT, LDH, inorganic P, hematocrit and hemoglobin. Other indications of exposure included changes in uric acid, creatinine, and total protein which were consistent with reported liver and kidney damage due to this contaminant. Changes in white blood cells included a greater frequency of thrombocytes and fewer lymphocytes in dosed birds compared to controls. A biomarker of exposure based on LDH activity and hemoglobin is proposed.
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Blood changes in mallards exposed to white phosphorus