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Sci Total Environ. 2010 Jan 15;408(4):829-35. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2009.11.006. Epub 2009 Nov 27.

Arsenic transformations and biomarkers in meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus) living on an abandoned gold mine site in Montague, Nova Scotia, Canada.

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Environmental Sciences Group, Royal Military College of Canada, Kingston, Ontario, Canada K7K 7B4.


Arsenic is one of the most widely encountered environmental contaminants because of a number of anthropogenic sources; in Canada the main anthropogenic release of arsenic is from mine tailings ponds. The present study is part of a series of studies to measure chemical and biological effects of exposure for meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus) living on arsenic contaminated sites. Two additional objectives were addressed in the present study: the effect of higher arsenic concentrations compared with previous studies, and the comparison of chemical speciation and biological effects. To obtain the higher environmental concentrations, specimens were collected from a former gold mining site in Montague, NS that contains highly elevated concentrations of arsenic in soils and plants. Meadow voles were collected and their tissues were analyzed for total arsenic to measure uptake, and arsenic speciation to examine the chemical effects of the high arsenic exposure. In addition to the arsenic analysis, a biomonitoring study was undertaken to examine the sub-cellular effects in meadow voles resulting from the elevated arsenic exposure. Meadow voles living on the contaminated site had substantially higher concentrations of total arsenic than animals from the background (reference) location. The extractable arsenic in internal tissues was present mainly as monomethylarsonic acid (up to 14% of total arsenic). A statistically significant relationship was observed between the reduction of glutathione in vole livers and the increase in liver arsenic concentrations, and micronucleated monochromatic red blood cells were also significantly elevated in voles from the arsenic contaminated site. This is one of the few field studies where sub-cellular effects were observed, and the first to show a co-existence of such effects with relatively high proportions of monomethylarsonic acid in voles living near mine tailings.

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