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Arch Environ Contam Toxicol. 1999 Apr;36(3):316-22.

Acute toxicity and sublethal effects of white phosphorus in mute swans, Cygnus olor.

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  • 1U.S. Geological Survey, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, 11510 American Holly Dr., Laurel, Maryland 20708, USA.


Among the waterfowl affected by white phosphorus (P4) at a military base in Alaska are tundra (Cygnus columbianus) and trumpeter (C. buccinator) swans. To estimate the toxicity of P4 to swans and compare the toxic effects to those of mallards (Anas platyrhynchos), we dosed 30 juvenile mute swans (C. olor) with 0 to 5.28 mg P4/kg body weight. The calculated LD50 was 3.65 mg/kg (95% CI: 1.40 to 4. 68 mg/kg). However, many of the swans still had P4 in their gizzards after dying, as determined by "smoking gizzards" and characteristic odor, and a lower LD50 might be calculated if all of the P4 had passed into the small intestines. We attribute the retention of P4 in swans to the possibility that P4 pellets were mistaken for the similarly sized grit in their gizzards. Most swans took 1 to 4.5 days to die in contrast to the few hours normally required in mallards and death appeared to be related more to liver dysfunction than to hemolysis. White phosphorus affected several plasma constituents, most notably elevated aspartate aminotransferase, blood urea nitrogen, lactate dehydrogenase, and alanine aminotransferase.

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