Bald eagle being treated for lead poisoning at Blue Mountain Wildlife

Blue Mountain Wildlife in Pendleton received a new patient on Monday: an adult bald eagle with the highest amounts of lead poisoning they've ever seen in his system.

"We're treating him very aggressively,” says director Lynn Tompkins.

Found near Mesa in Washington, the eagle tested at 622 micrograms of lead per deciliter, more than 30 times the amount of what's considered toxic.

Tompkins says the lead poisoning has caused the raptor to be unable to stand or carry its head upright. However, it's not completely paralyzed and is still able to move its feet.

She considers his chances of survival to be very slim.

"We're treating him three times a day. Normally we try twice a day, but his lead is so high that it's kind of like we have nothing to lose."

This isn't the first time this has happened. This particular bird is the third bald eagle this year to be brought in with lead toxicity.

Tompkins believes the most likely source for the toxicity is gun ammunition, with the eagle ingesting the meat of an animal already poisoned.

Lead ammo is often used to shoot game animals and kill animals considered pests, such as ground squirrels and coyotes.

But lead ammunition could also be dangerous to people if they eat meat from infected animals since it raises the chance of lead exposure.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers five micrograms per deciliter the reference level for public health actions to be taken.

"The other thing to remember is that people that hunt with lead, if you eat that game meat, you're eating the lead and your feeding it to your family. There's no safe level of lead."

Tompkins says a fix to this is for hunters to switch to non-lead ammunition.

But that measure is likely too late for this bald eagle.

"We've never successfully treated a bird with more than 300 micrograms per deciliter of lead and his is twice that. But we're going to try because that's what we do."

Officials plan to continue to treat this bird until it recovers or dies.

Last year Blue Mountain Wildlife tested 16 eagles for lead.

Six of them were above the amount considered dangerous, with the most measuring at 411 micrograms per deciliter. The minimum level that's considered dangerous is 20.

Blue Mountain Wildlife is looking for more volunteers. For more information, visit their website here.

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