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Hundreds of birds died along Dorset coast from oil additive pollution
1:26pm Wednesday 6th February 2013 in News
SCIENTISTS have identified the substance responsible for killing hundreds of seabirds off the Dorset coast.
Plymouth University said it was a form of polyisobutene, which was used as an additive in lubricating oils.
The additive was identified after detailed examination of a stricken guillemot.
The university’s Professor Steve Rowland said it was only the second reported incident of the substance being discovered at sea that he was aware of.
He believes the substance is not known to be toxic, but can act as an irritant, which may be why it has caused injuries to the birds' skin.
He said: "It depends on exactly which manufacturer's substance we are dealing with. Some websites I have looked at have safety sheets which say to avoid contact with the skin, and one or two said it can act as an irritant, which explains what happened to the birds' legs."
Professor Rowland added: "I do not think it will biodegrade, but it may be that it will disperse, and hopefully it will break up.
"The number of birds coming in over the past few days, which is much less than last week, does reflect that."
The findings have been passed to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).
More than 300 birds have been discovered washed up along Chesil beach.
The substance covered the birds' feathers, making them lose their waterproofing and leaving them unable to swim and catch prey.
Professor Rowland said: "I think birds suffer most because they come into contact with anything floating about on the surface of the water, and it gets in their feathers.
"Other wildlife, like fish, are just able to swim away, so hopefully nothing else will be badly impacted."
The surviving birds have been taken at the RSPCA West Hatch centre in Somerset for treatment.