Trace elements and radiocesium in game species near contaminated sites.
Mercury (Hg), Selenium (Se), and Arsenic (As) found in coal combustion wastes (CCW) and radionuclides released from anthropogenic activities present potential environmental and human health concerns. Despite the widespread harvest and consumption of wildlife by recreational hunters, game species are not subject to the same safety testing as commercially marketed livestock; thus, there are few data available regarding contaminant concentrations in many commonly harvested wildlife. We sampled feral pigs (Sus scrofa; invasive wild pigs), gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis), and waterfowl from relatively uncontaminated habitats and areas of contamination to quantify levels of trace elements and radiocesium (137Cs) in muscle and liver tissues for assessment of potential human health risks from the consumption of game. Species collected at a CCW ash basin consistently had levels of selected trace elements, particularly Se, above concentrations considered toxic to waterfowl, suggesting CCW may be an important pathway for wildlife, and subsequently human exposure to this element. Similarly, we observed elevated concentrations of 137Cs in wildlife collected in or near aquatic ecosystems with histories of operational releases of radionuclides. The majority of tissue samples analyzed were below elemental levels known to adversely affect wildlife health and 137Cs levels were below European Economic Community limits for human consumption established following the 1986 Chernobyl accident. Waterfowl, however, had levels of several elements of interest (Se and Hg) that could be of health concern to the birds, especially individuals collected from areas with known contamination, or human consumers of the birds. Given the high levels of trace element burdens we observed in waterfowl collected from ash basins, and the common occurrence of similar surface impoundments throughout much of the globe, wide-scale sampling for contaminants in waterfowl within or across migratory flyways appear to be greatly needed to better understand routes of contaminant movement and potential areas (or species) with elevated contamination risk to waterfowl and hunters.