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Arch Environ Contam Toxicol. 2002 Jul;43(1):103-8.

Cattle as biomonitors of soil arsenic, copper, and zinc concentrations in Galicia (NW Spain).

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  • 1Universidade de Santiago de Compostela, Departamento de Patoloxia Animal, Facultade de Veterinaria, Lugo, Spain.


Determination of soil concentrations of trace and pollutant metals over large spatial areas requires laborious and expensive sampling effort. In this study, we examined the feasibility of using calves as biomonitors of soil semimetal and trace metal concentrations in Galicia (NW Spain), a region in which calves are predominantly reared on grass or locally grown forage. We determined the concentrations of arsenic, copper, and zinc in the liver, kidney, muscle, and blood of calves from across Galicia and related them to the metal concentrations in the soil from the areas in which the animals were reared. For each element, liver (but not usually kidney, muscle, or blood) concentrations were significantly elevated in animals from areas with higher soil concentrations. Liver arsenic concentrations were only markedly greater in animals from areas with soil arsenic levels > 20 mg/kg, and calves may not be sensitive enough biomonitors of background variation in soil levels, although they may be useful for monitoring anthropogenic arsenic contamination. Copper and zinc liver levels increased progressively with soil levels, and the pattern was especially marked for copper. The relatively unusual copper metabolism of cattle and other ruminants may make them particularly good biomonitors for environmental concentrations of this metal.

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