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PCBs Cause Birds To Sing a Different Tune 67

Posted by timothy
from the suddenly-their-passwords-don't-work dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Songbirds living along the Hudson River in New York state are exposed to levels of PCBs that don't kill them but do disrupt the songs they sing, reports a team of researchers from Cornell University. Their study reveals that birds residing in regions with higher environmental PCB contamination levels have higher total blood PCBs, which affects their singing behaviour: the team found these species' songs varied predictably based on their PCB load, and also based upon the type of PCBs. Thus, the scientists suggest that another of the many toxic effects of sublethal environmental PCB pollution are neurological effects that translate into observable behaviour changes that disrupt song quality used by birds to communicate."
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PCBs Cause Birds To Sing a Different Tune

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  • What is PCB? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by byrtolet (1353359) on Saturday September 21, 2013 @09:58AM (#44911345)
    What the fuck is PCB?
    • Re: What is PCB? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 21, 2013 @10:00AM (#44911355)

      "Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are man-made chemicals that were widely used as chemical coolants and electrical insulators in electrical motors and transformers."

      • by Anonymous Coward

        ...and we wounder why birds get angry....

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by YttriumOxide (837412)

        "Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are man-made chemicals that were widely used as chemical coolants and electrical insulators in electrical motors and transformers."

        While I was aware of polychlorinated biphenyls, I'd never actually heard of them called "PCBs" before. To me, that acronym always means "Printed Circuit Board".

        But, it does seem to just be my own ignorance. Wikipedia redirect "PCBs" to "Polychlorinated Biphenyl" and shows images of warning signs that also use that acronym. (note that "PCB" on Wikipedia however is a disambiguation page, with "Printed Circuit Board" as the top entry)

        • Some time in the 1980's there was a huge scare that PCBs were killing people on a massive scale. The actual evidence showed large numbers of Electronic Engineers were dying, and they had been expsed to PCBs.

          Some time later, it was discovered that male baby boomers who were not electronic engineers had disproportionally died of gunshot wounds in the Vietnam war, and those that had not, were indeed, probably exposed to Printed Circuit Boards.

          It is amazing what you can prove with incredibly bad science!

          Pol

          • by Anonymous Coward

            I don't remember there being a huge connection between low level PCB exposure and death, it was mostly connected to hormone and child development problems at the low end, plus a big impact on the environment, especially birds. Although the stuff is nasty if you get a high level exposure to it, and that was known about for decades before the 1980s, and at least twice before 1980 there were incidents of food becoming contaminated from industrial cooking equipment that caused severe disease symptoms in thousa

        • Spend some time around the Capital District of New York. PCB is a household term around here, referring to polychlorinated biphenyls. GE has been dredging the Hudson, cleaning up PCBs: http://www.hudsondredging.com/ [hudsondredging.com]. There's been concerns regarding the level of the chemical in the Mohawk River, as well.

        • While I was aware of polychlorinated biphenyls, I'd never actually heard of them called "PCBs" before. To me, that acronym always means "Printed Circuit Board".

          But, it does seem to just be my own ignorance. Wikipedia redirect "PCBs" to "Polychlorinated Biphenyl" and shows images of warning signs that also use that acronym. (note that "PCB" on Wikipedia however is a disambiguation page, with "Printed Circuit Board" as the top entry)

          In the early 90s the term referring to a circuit board was changed to Printed Wire Assembly, or PWA, at least in some segments of the electronics industry I worked in.

          I think the association with polychlorinated biphenyls was the reason, as the movement of production of these items offshore was in full swing and to a lesser extent manufacturers didn't want their customers opening up products and seeing they were full of parts labelled "PCB".

          • >In the early 90s the term referring to a circuit board was changed to Printed Wire Assembly, or PWA

            They tried, but it certainly didn't stick.

        • I interpreted it the same way until I realized that wild songbirds probably aren't spending a whole lot of time around electronics (unless it was exposure to toxins used in creating them). In my defense, I've been spending a lot of time learning about the different components that go onto circuit boards, and how to identify & replace bad parts without destroying anything. (Rule number one seems to be to never, ever use desoldering braid or solder from Radio Shack...luckily I learned it while practici

    • by JustOK (667959) on Saturday September 21, 2013 @10:08AM (#44911407) Journal

      Printed Circuit Boards.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        They swallowed the pc beepers from the junk yard?

    • Printed Circuit Board. Birds that buy to many electronics, sing differently than ones that live the simple life. ;-) Using TLA's (Three-letter acronym) mess people up, and should NOT not be used in the summary, unless the TLA is implied! SiO (Spell it Out) QED? OK?
    • haha, thought the same, only knew pcb as "printed circuit board" and was like "dafuq?"

    • Printed Circuit Boards. Crows just love to eat those things.
    • Did anyone else think about printed circuit boards?
  • by MasseKid (1294554) on Saturday September 21, 2013 @09:59AM (#44911349)
    Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are man-made chemicals that were widely used as chemical coolants and electrical insulators in electrical motors and transformers.

    Just in case anyone else didn't know.
    • by Ixtl (1022043)
      I was thinking someone grafted printed circuit boards to sparrows, then made an iPhone app that lets you control what song they're singing. Like, "I'm sick of chirping, let's get some warbling up in here!"
      • I was more thinking along the lines of "duh, if you pump angel dust in my system you'll see me hum a different tune, too"...

        And before you start lecturing me, it wouldn't be the first time an article on /. has a few letters different from what they should be.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Felt like saying 'well duh'.

    • Local hunters report needing #000 buck shot to take down hallucinating birds. Live at 11.
    • by gl4ss (559668)

      well if pcp made them act predictably different that would be news..

      do the birds still manage to breed? do the chemicals affect them when listening to the tunes as well? they have neurological effects obviously but does it matter - and where does the singing for these birds come from? it can't be learnt, since according to the report they can guess how the bird sings based on the pcb levels..

      • by sjames (1099)

        The effect on reproductive success is not yet determined, but that would hardly be the only measure of harm. Two humans poisoned until they have an IQ of 50 or less will still manage to reproduce (often) if not prevented, but is that a good thing overall?

  • by Mystakaphoros (2664209) on Saturday September 21, 2013 @10:30AM (#44911507) Homepage
    General Electric dumped tons of PCBs into the Housatonic near Pittsfield, too. And for years we were told that they probably weren't a big deal.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      That's quite correct. Sad, really. I grew up there, and so I'm in touch with friends and family that still live there. In fact, the Housatonic flowed by my neighborhood - I probably lived less than 200 yards from the river. (Now my parents' quaint little neighborhood is being disrupted by the heavy machinery brought-in for the dredging operations.)

      It's funny (but not really) -- Several commenters were asking "What are PCBs?", but it's a term that I've known since my childhood. Hearing about PCBs was ki

  • by guttentag (313541) on Saturday September 21, 2013 @11:04AM (#44911655) Journal
    Mark Zuckerberg was raised in Dobbs Ferry [wikipedia.org], which lies on the Hudson River. The town itself is named for the ferry service that ran across the Hudson River there during the revolutionary war. Had he been raised in a community with fewer PCBs in the water, he might have sung a different tune and founded Twitter instead. Rapper DMX is also allegedly from Dobbs Ferry... he could have been an opera singer instead of naming himself after a drum machine!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    its all completely safe, Monsanto said so about the people complaining about pcb's and their cancers. cancers have nothing to do with pcb's. and everyone is very safe with their disposal. i mean, this is america, we dont cut corners like china. we do things like we should.

    • You made my morning! Thank you. :)

    • I believe that as soon as the CEOs of companies claiming their dumped waste is harmless moves in next to where it gets dumped. Put your money (and family) where your mouth is.

      Actually, I'd make it mandatory to do that...

  • I don't want to belittle the scientific work of others, because I know how hard it can be, but they completely dropped the ball on this one.

    They measured:
    geographic location of the birds
    PCB levels of the birds
    song patterns of the birds
    some other stuff that doesn't matter (in the big picture)
    All of these were measured on a per-bird basis.

    They concluded by comparing geographic region to song patterns.

    WHY?! Why didn't they directly compare the PCB levels to the songs?! Now, we are left wondering if the song p

    • by Jmc23 (2353706)
      Perhaps you should read it again, a little more slowly this time, and perhaps you'll see where you went astray.
    • by sjames (1099)

      Careful reading of TFA would solve your problem. They did take blood samples and measure PCBs, then they recorded the songs of those same birds. They compared to the songs of other birds and their measured PCB levels.

      • by Vesvvi (1501135)

        I read the PLoS article: it wasn't there.

        They took very substantial trouble to match the individual bird's song to the blood sample: that's excellent work! But where did they analyze that data? They didn't.

        • by sjames (1099)

          Then you did NOT read the PLoS article.

          • by Vesvvi (1501135)

            You're partially right, I did overlook their "analysis". Table 1 gives us their conclusions, but there is no data. There are regression plots and PCA for other comparisons, but they left out everything relevant to to PCB-vs-song.

            So they didn't show the song data per bird. They did describe how they reduced song data to a high/low binary value ("trill performance"). They didn't show "trill performance" per bird. They didn't show the models. They didn't show any evaluation of the models. They did show t

            • by sjames (1099)

              Doing the analysis per bird would only introduce noise. Birds do naturally show individual differences in their song because they are individuals. So they used statistical analysis to remove the individual variations and check on the trend in song as compared top PCB level.

              Knowing that bird A trills longer and has elevated PCB level tells us nothing at all (perhaps it just especially enjoys trilling) that all of the birds or even the vast majority of the birds with elevated PCBs trill longer is useful infor

  • > songs varied predictably based on their PCB load
    which opens up a whole new method of measuring PCB contamination -- just listen to birds. This way a whole lot of unemployed ornithologists may get a job.
  • Song Sung Bluejay
  • Does this explain the NY accent too? :)
  • So maybe PCBs are where Rap "music" comes from
    /* officially, music is supposed to be a melody and rhythm. Rap is pretty much just harmony and rhythm ;-) */

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