SUMMARY--White phosphorus has a limited distribution in the environment because it only occurs where it has been directly used by humans. It is not transported aerially for any distance and, due to its density, has a limited ability to disperse through water. Therefore, it is not a contaminant of broad-scale concern. However, where it does occur, it can cause substantial mortality or critically injure populations of waterfowl. This chronic harm includes impaired liver and kidney functioning, decreased respiratory efficiency, increased susceptibility to predation, loss of body mass, general weakening and malaise, and curtailment of reproductive functioning. Lethal effects occur around 3---4 mg/kg or approximately 3-6 ingested particles; sublethal effects can occur with ingestion of as little as a single particle. The impact of P4 on waterfowl populations nesting around ERF has never been estimated. Even if direct mortality on ERF could be estimated accurately in ducks, the delayed toxicity of P4 in swans (and presumably other species that use small grit size) and the potential for swans to fly away after ingesting a lethal dose of P4 could greatly underestimate the overall mortality. Inhibition of laying, reduced fertility and hatchability, and teratogenesis in hens ingesting even a small amount of P4 could potentially have, an effect on populations greater than that exhibited by direct mortality. Predators such as bald eagles and gulls are also at risk due to the toxicity of pelletized, dissolved, and assimilated P4 in prey organisms. Although the U.S. Army stopped using P4 in wetlands in 1993 and remediation efforts have been underway since 1995, waterfowl mortality is expected to continue for several more years. Because Eagle River Flats is only one of several sites where P4 has been found in wetland conditions, further biological investigation is warranted at these other sites.
Additional publication details
White phosphorus at Eagle River Flats, Alaska: a case history of waterfowl mortality