Landfill disposal of a fertilizer manufacturing waste product was associated with a die-off of gulls in New Hanover County, North Carolina. An estimated 250 herring and ring-billed gulls were found dead at the site following the initial disposal of this material. Chemical analyses revealed that the fertilizer waste contained predominately calcium (12.0 to 22.2%) and nitrite (3.0 to 15.2%). Contents of the proventriculi and gizzards of dead gulls also contained calcium (3.0 to 10.9%) and nitrite (1,730 ppm). Fertilizer waste administered orally to 16-day-old domestic turkeys resulted in acute, progressive signs of depression, respiratory distress, pallor, convulsions and death. The mean percentage methemoglobin in blood from convulsing turkeys (90.6) was significantly increased from that of normal control turkeys (3.6). The ante-mortem signs and increased blood methemoglobin concentrations in the experimental turkeys support the conclusion that the toxic principle in the fertilizer waste was nitrite, and that nitrite poisoning was the cause of the die-off of gulls.
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