An assessment of the toxicological significance of anthropogenic contaminants in Canadian arctic wildlife

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Science of the Total Environment



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Arctic, Biological effects, Cadmium, Canadian arctic, DDT, Fish, Heavy metals, Mammals, Mercury, Organochlorines, PCB, PCDD/F, Seabirds, Selenium

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Anthropogenic contaminants have been a concern in the Canadian arctic for over 30 years due to relatively high concentrations of bioaccumulating and biomagnifying organochlorine contaminants (OCs) and toxic metals found in some arctic biota and humans. However, few studies have addressed the potential effects of these contaminants in Canadian arctic wildlife. Prior to 1997, biological effects data were minimal and insufficient at any level of biological organization. The present review summarizes recent studies on biological effects related to contaminant exposure, and compares new tissue concentration data to threshold effects levels. Weak relationships between cadmium, mercury and selenium burdens and health biomarkers in common eider ducks (Somateria mollissima borealis) in Nunavut were found but it was concluded that metals were not influencing the health of these birds. Black guillemots (Cepphus grylle) examined near PCB-contaminated Saglek Bay, Labrador, had enlarged livers, elevated EROD and liver lipid levels and reduced retinol (vitamin A) and retinyl palmitate levels, which correlated to PCB levels in the birds. Circulating levels of thyroid hormones in polar bears (Ursus maritimus) were correlated to PCB and HO-PCB plasma concentrations, but the impact at the population level is unknown. High PCB and organochlorine pesticide concentrations were found to be strongly associated with impaired humoral and cell-mediated immune responses in polar bears, implying an increased infection risk that could impact the population. In beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas), cytochromes P450 (phase I) and conjugating (phase II) enzymes have been extensively profiled (immunochemically and catalytically) in liver, demonstrating the importance of contaminants in relation to enzyme induction, metabolism and potential contaminant bioactivation and fate. Concentrations of OCs and metals in arctic terrestrial wildlife, fish and seabirds are generally below effects thresholds, with the possible exception of PCBs in burbot (Lota lota) in some Yukon lakes, Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus), glaucous and great black-backed gulls (Larus hyperboreus and L. marinus), and TEQs of dioxin-like chemicals in seabird eggs. PCB and DDT concentrations in several arctic marine mammal species exceed effects thresholds, although evidence of stress in these populations is lacking. There is little evidence that contaminants are having widespread effects on the health of Canadian arctic organisms, with the possible exception of polar bears. However, further research and better understanding of organohalogen exposure in arctic biota is needed considering factors such as tissue levels that exceed effects thresholds, exposure to "new" organohalogen contaminants of concern, contaminated regions, and climate change.





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