Bird Deaths Shut Down Downtown Austin

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By JIM VERTUNO
The Associated Press
Tuesday, January 9, 2007; 4:41 AM

AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas health officials are trying to determine what killed dozens of birds whose remains prompted a temporary shutdown of 10 blocks of downtown Austin.

Police closed a section of downtown for several hours Monday after 63 birds were found dead in the street, but officials said preliminary tests found no threat to people.

Workers in yellow hazardous-materials suits tested for contaminants in a cordoned-off area near the state Capitol and the governor's mansion before authorities finally gave the all-clear in the afternoon.

Dr. Adolfo Valadez, medical director for the Austin and Travis County Health and Human Services Division, said the dead grackles, sparrows and pigeons were to be tested for signs of poison or viral infections. Officials did not believe bird flu was involved.

Grackles are a crowlike bird regarded as a major pest in Texas, with Austin sidewalks sometimes covered in their droppings.

Some experts said the most likely cause of the die-off was a deliberate poisoning. "It happens quite frequently," said Greg Butcher, director of bird conservation at the National Audubon Society in Washington.

The dead birds were found overnight along Congress Avenue, a major downtown thoroughfare.

Elsewhere in Texas, authorities in the Houston suburb of Sugar Land asked people to stay indoors with windows closed Monday after a chemical release at an industrial plant. Ethylenediamine was released into the air while a tanker truck was unloading at a division of Nalco Co.

The warning was lifted a little more than an hour later after emergency crews contained the leak of the colorless liquid, which has an amomonia-like odor and can cause skin and nasal irritation, and possible damage to the kidneys and liver.

Three employees were sent to a hospital and about a dozen others were treated on the scene.

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Associated Press Science Writer Seth Borenstein in Washington contributed to this report.


© 2007 The Associated Press

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