Backyard layer chickens may be exposed to a variety of metals in the environment, including lead. The potential public health concerns associated with lead exposure prompted us to systematically screen liver samples from backyard layers submitted to the diagnostic laboratory to estimate the prevalence of lead exposure. Over a period of 1 y, we tested 1,476 chicken livers, of which 45 were found to have lead concentrations of 0.9–41 µg/g. The lead-positive cases were investigated by follow-up questions to the bird owners on the environment, general management of the flock, and egg consumption of family members. Lead concentrations in 14 pooled egg samples were determined, and a conservative estimate of daily exposure of family members to lead was made based on egg consumption. In some cases, estimated daily lead intake exceeded the recommended limits for lead consumption in children. Analysis of feed, water, and environmental samples did not identify a source of exposure in most cases. Only 34% of owners of lead-positive birds submitted eggs or environmental samples, indicating a lack of interest or financial concerns. In most cases, neither the case history nor postmortem findings were indicative of lead intoxication; without systematically testing all birds, some cases could have been missed. Our study highlights the need for backyard chicken owners, veterinarians, and public health personnel to be aware of the risk of lead exposure and undertake preventive and surveillance measures.
- Backyard chickens
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