Lead exposure in consumers of culled invasive alien mammals in El Palmar National Park, Argentina.
Consumption of meat from animals hunted with Pb ammunition can cause toxic accumulation with consequent health risks, even if relatively small amounts are consumed in each exposure. In El Palmar National Park, Argentina, invasive alien mammals, wild boar (Sus scrofa) and axis deer (Axis axis), are culled with Pb ammunition and their meat is consumed. In this study, we evaluated blood Pb concentrations in 58 consumers of culled game and examined Pb exposure risk according to their demographics, duty, and consumption habits. Likewise, the likelihood of exposure was evaluated by quantifying Pb concentrations in meat samples of seven culled axis deer. Twenty-seven participants (46%) had detectable blood Pb levels (limit of detection = 3.3 μg/dL), with an average 4.75 ± 1.35 μg/dL (geometric mean ± geometric S.D.); the average for all participants was 3.25 ± 1.51 μg/dL. Blood Pb concentrations were significantly higher in hunters, in participants who reported consuming game meat more than 5 times per week, and in participants who reported frequently consuming cured game meat (compared to cooked or pickled). Pb concentration varied significantly along the trajectory of the bullet in deer muscle, being highest at mid-point but with detectable Pb levels even in distant tissue samples (control), suggesting potential for dietary intake by consumers. These findings provide evidence of Pb exposure risk in consumers and emphasize the relevance of replacing Pb ammunition with non-toxic alternatives. This change would reduce dietary exposure in frequent consumers and allow the use of game meat as safe food for people whilst eliminating collateral risks to wild animals and the environment.