Voles (n=6) and small ground-nesting birds (n=12) were live-captured near the DeLong Mountain Regional Transportation System haul road in Cape Krusenstern National Monument in northwest Alaska in 2006 to assess metals exposure and sub-lethal biological effects. Similar numbers of animals were captured from a reference site in southern Cape Krusenstern National Monument for comparison. Histopathological examination of selected organs, blood analysis, and analysis for aluminum, barium, cadmium, lead, and zinc concentrations in liver and blood samples were performed. Voles and small birds captured from near the haul road had about 20 times greater blood and liver lead concentrations and about 3 times greater cadmium concentrations when compared to those from the reference site. Barium and zinc tissue concentrations of animals collected from different sites were not remarkably different, and aluminum concentrations were below the reporting limits in most samples. There was no clear evidence of serious sub-lethal biological effects such as lesions in internal organs or DNA damage in blood in any of the animals. Accordingly, blood and liver lead concentrations in animals captured near the haul road generally were less than tissue concentration thresholds associated with serious biological effects reported from other studies; however, subtle effects resulting from lead exposure, such as the suppression of the activity of certain enzymes, cannot be ruled out for those animals nearest the haul road. Notably, liver lead concentrations of voles and small birds at the reference location were considerably less than those previously reported for similar animals at reference sites in other parts of the United States, Canada, and Europe. Results from this reconnaissance-level study indicate that voles and small birds inhabiting this area are not suffering serious biological effects as a result of metals exposure; however, continued monitoring of lead and other metals is recommended because of uncertainties noted and because biological effects thresholds might be approached if exposure levels were to increase.
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USGS Numbered Series
Assessment of Metals Exposure and Sub-Lethal Effects in Voles and Small Birds Captured Near the DeLong Mountain Regional Transportation System Road, Cape Krusenstern National Monument, Alaska, 2006