JAMAICA — Health officials believe two birds found dead this month in Jamaica probably ate agricultural pesticide, but they still don't know for certain what happened to other animals that have died there in the past month.
"The odds are good there is some common cause for these deaths," said Vermilion County Health Department Environmental Health Director Douglas Toole. "We just don't know yet whether what caused the deaths of the birds is the same thing that caused the deaths of the mammals."
Vermilion County Public Health Administrator Shirley Hicks said there is no evidence of human illness in the area.
Toole said public health is issuing no cautions or restrictions for people or animals in Jamaica, an unincorporated town in Jamaica Township in southwestern Vermilion County.
"It is too early to determine whether there is a health threat to people or animals in Jamaica," Toole said on Thursday night. "We just found out today that pesticides killed the birds."
According to Toole, four dogs were found dead between Feb. 19 and 22.
When J.R. Mosay of the Vermilion County Animal Control Department investigated the area on Feb. 22, he also found a dead cat and a dead skunk.
One week later Mosay found a fifth dead dog on Jamaica's north side.
Then, on March 14, three starlings were found dead on the northwest side of Jamaica. Two of them were sent to the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois, which determined that neither had West Nile Virus or an infectious disease.
The birds were then forwarded to Michigan State University, where tests indicated they died from exposure to carbofuran, a pesticide sometimes used by farmers.
Toole said carbofuran is used to control pests on a variety of crops.
"One granule is sufficient to kill a small bird," said a Michigan State report. "Bird kills have occurred when birds ingested carbofuran granules, which resemble grain seeds in size and shape, or when predatory or scavenging birds have ingested small birds or mammals which had eaten carbofuran pellets."
Toxicology testing has begun at Michigan State University on the dead cat and on one of the dead dogs. Those results are expected in a few days.
Toole said the health department has not made any restrictions against people going to the north side of Jamaica at this time. He said Vermilion County officials contacted the Champaign regional Office of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, which plans to conduct its own investigation.
"There's a lot we still don't know at this point," Toole said. "There seems to be a lot of small animal deaths in Jamaica recently. We know two birds have died after ingesting pesticide. The deaths of the birds may be related to the deaths of the mammals, but they may not be."
County public health, animal control and EPA officials plan to meet on Friday to talk about what to do next, including the possibility of contacting farmers in the area to find out if any of them use the pesticide that killed the birds.
Toole said no farmers had been contacted as of Thursday night.
"This cluster of deaths first started a month ago," Toole said. "I don't feel comfortable saying the cause of the deaths is from this area. This is something the birds could have ingested many miles from here."
"We understand that the residents of Jamaica have been concerned about this situation since it began," Vermilion County Board Chairman Jim McMahon said in a written release. "We all wish that the results of the tests of the specimens that Animal Control collected and submitted were available quicker, but these tests take time. We appreciate the patience of the residents in Jamaica while we waited for those results."
Anybody who finds any additional dead animals are asked to call the animal control department at 431-2660.