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Sci Total Environ. 2004 Sep 20;331(1-3):189-206.

Human exposure to contaminants in the traditional Greenland diet.

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Department of Arctic Environment, National Environmental Research Institute, Frederiksborgvej 399, DK-4000 Roskilde, Denmark.


The traditional diet is a significant source of contaminants to people in Greenland, although contaminant levels vary widely among species and tissue from very low in many to very high in a few. Our study has included cadmium, mercury, selenium, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), dichlorophenyltrichloroethane (DDT), chlordane, hexachlorocyclohexanes (HCH), chlorobenzenes, dieldrin and toxaphene in the major species and tissues consumed by Greenlanders. In general, the levels of these are very low in terrestrial species and in muscle of many marine species. High organochlorines concentrations are typically found in blubber of marine mammals and high metal levels in liver and kidney of seals and whales. In this study, the mean intakes of cadmium, chlordanes and toxaphene significantly exceed 'acceptable/tolerable intakes' (ADI/TDI) by a factor between 2.5 and 6. Mean intakes of mercury, PCB and dieldrin also exceed ADI/TDI by up to approximately 50%. However as these figures are mean intakes and as variation in both food intake and contaminant levels is large, the variation of contaminant intake among individuals is also large, and some individuals will be exposed to significantly higher intakes. The mean intakes of DDT, HCH and chlorobenzenes are well below the ADI/TDI values, and it seems unlikely that the TDI for these contaminants normally is exceeded in the Greenland population. The evaluation of contaminant intake in this study points to seal muscle, seal liver, seal kidney, seal blubber and whale blubber as the dominant contributors of contaminants in the traditional diet. Levels in liver from Greenland halibut, snow crab, king eider, kittiwake, beluga and narwhal and kidney of beluga and narwhal are also high but were, with the exception of toxaphene in Greenland halibut liver, not important sources in this study, because they were eaten in low quantities. A way to minimize contaminant intake would be to avoid or limit the consumption of diet items with high contaminant levels. If we assume a traditional diet composition in this study without fish liver, bird liver, seal liver, seal kidney, seal blubber, whale liver, whale kidney and whale blubber, the intake of all contaminants would be below the TDIs for these. This will result in a reduction of the intake of the amount of traditional food of only 24-25%, and it is not likely that this changed diet will result in deficiency of minerals, vitamins or other nutritional compounds.

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