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Environ Pollut. 2003;125(2):173-81.

Large-scale spatial variation in mercury concentrations in cattle in NW Spain.

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Departamento de Patoloxía Animal, Facultade de Veterinaria, Universidade de Santiago de Compostela, 27002, Lugo, Spain.


Mercury (Hg) is a highly toxic environmental contaminant and man-made emissions account for between a quarter and a third of total atmospheric levels. Point discharges, particularly coal-burning power stations, are major sources of atmospheric Hg and can result in marked spatial variation in mercury deposition and subsequent uptake by biota. The aims of this study were to quantify the extent to which major point and diffuse sources of atmospheric Hg emissions affected accumulation of Hg by biota throughout Galicia and Asturias, two of the major regions in northwest Spain. We did this by relating renal Hg concentrations in locally reared cattle (n=284) to the proximity of animals to point and diffuse sources of Hg emissions. Mercury residues in calf kidneys ranged between non-detected and 89.4 g/kg wet weight. Point discharges from coal-fired power plants in Galicia had the most dominant impact on Hg accumulation by calves in Galicia, affecting animals throughout the region and explaining some two-thirds of the variation in renal residues between animals located directly downwind from the plants. The effects of more diffuse emission sources on Hg accumulation in calves were not distinguishable in Galicia but were detected in cattle from neighbouring Asturias. The impact of both point and diffuse sources in elevating environmental levels of bioavailable Hg and subsequent accumulation by cattle extended to approximately 140-200 km downwind from source.

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