Lead concentrations in the blood and eggs of backyard laying hensAuthors: Gartrell BD, Cowie E
Publication: New Zealand Veterinary Journal, Volume 67, Issue 2, pp 86-92, Mar 2019
Publisher: Taylor and Francis
Article class: Review Article
AIMS: To investigate the prevalence of lead exposure in hens and eggs from backyard poultry in a sample of Auckland households, the relationship between concentrations of lead in the blood of the hens and in the shells and yolks of eggs from the same household, and to examine associations with measures of hen health, environment and husbandry factors.
METHODS: Thirty households participated in the study from August to November 2016, each providing one adult hen for sampling, an egg from the household if available, and completing a questionnaire on hen husbandry. Concentrations of lead in blood were determined using a portable lead analyser. Eggs were analysed for concentrations of lead in the yolk and shell using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry after biological digestion with a mixture of nitric and hydrochloric acid.
RESULTS: Twenty three of 30 hens (77%) showed evidence of lead exposure, with median concentrations of lead in blood of 0.77 (min <0.16, max 8.02) μmol/L. All eggs showed evidence of lead exposure, with concentrations of lead in the yolk ranging from 0.003–1.07 mg/kg, and concentrations of lead in the eggshell ranging from <0.1–0.82 mg/kg. A positive correlation existed between concentrations of lead in the blood of a hen and concentrations of lead in egg yolk from the same hen (R2=0.97), and both the yolk (R2=0.58) and shell (R2=0.30) of an egg from her flock. No association was found between concentrations of lead in blood and hen health indices measured in this study. Concentrations of lead in blood were higher in hens from properties with homes built before 1941 than between 1941–1960 (p=0.03), and in hens from properties with weatherboard homes than brick homes (p=0.049).
CONCLUSIONS AND CLINICAL RELEVANCE: There was a high prevalence of lead exposure in this sample of Auckland backyard chickens, with the majority of hens being sub-clinically affected. Associations were found between concentrations of lead in the blood of the hens, and properties with homes built before 1941 and clad in weatherboard. Concentrations of lead in over half the egg yolks sampled were at levels sufficient to warrant human health concern. The assessment of concentrations of lead in backyard poultry and eggs intended for human consumption is recommended to protect human and bird health.