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A risk assessment review of mercury exposure in Arctic marine and terrestrial mammals

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  • Rune Dietz
  • Robert J. Letcher, Carleton University
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  • Jon Aars, Norwegian Polar Institute
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  • Magnus Andersen, Norwegian Polar Institute
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  • Andrei Boltunov, Marine Mammal Research and Expedition Center
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  • Erik W. Born, Greenland Institute of Natural Resources
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  • Tomasz M. Ciesielski, Norwegian University of Science and Technology
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  • Krishna Das, University of Liege
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  • Sam Dastnai
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  • Andrew E. Derocher, University of Alberta
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  • Jean Pierre Desforges, University of Winnipeg
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  • Igor Eulaers, Norwegian Polar Institute
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  • Steve Ferguson, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, University of Manitoba
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  • Ingeborg G. Hallanger, Norwegian Polar Institute
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  • Mads P. Heide-Jørgensen, Greenland Institute of Natural Resources
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  • Lars Eric Heimbürger-Boavida, Universite Toulouse III - Paul Sabatier, Aix-Marseille Université
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  • Paul F. Hoekstra, Grain Farmers of Ontario
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  • Bjørn M. Jenssen, Norwegian University of Science and Technology
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  • Stephen Gustav Kohler, Norwegian University of Science and Technology
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  • Martin M. Larsen
  • Ulf Lindstrøm, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, Fram Centre
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  • Anna Lippold, Norwegian Polar Institute
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  • Adam Morris, Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada
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  • Jacob Nabe-Nielsen
  • Nynne H. Nielsen, Greenland Institute of Natural Resources
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  • Elizabeth Peacock, United States Geological Survey
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  • Marianna Pinzone, University of Winnipeg
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  • Frank F. Rigét
  • Aqqalu Rosing-Asvid, Greenland Institute of Natural Resources
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  • Heli Routti, Norwegian Polar Institute
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  • Ursula Siebert
  • Garry Stenson, Fisheries and Oceans Canada
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  • Gary Stern, University of Manitoba
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  • Jakob Strand
  • Jens Søndergaard
  • Gabriele Treu, Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research
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  • Gisli A. Víkingsson, Marine and Freshwater Research Institute
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  • Feiyue Wang, University of Manitoba
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  • Jeffrey M. Welker, University of Alaska Anchorage, University of Oulu, University of the Arctic
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  • Øystein Wiig, University of Oslo
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  • Simon J. Wilson, Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme
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  • Christian Sonne

There has been a considerable number of reports on Hg concentrations in Arctic mammals since the last Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) effort to review biological effects of the exposure to mercury (Hg) in Arctic biota in 2010 and 2018. Here, we provide an update on the state of the knowledge of health risk associated with Hg concentrations in Arctic marine and terrestrial mammal species. Using available population-specific data post-2000, our ultimate goal is to provide an updated evidence-based estimate of the risk for adverse health effects from Hg exposure in Arctic mammal species at the individual and population level. Tissue residues of Hg in 13 species across the Arctic were classified into five risk categories (from No risk to Severe risk) based on critical tissue concentrations derived from experimental studies on harp seals and mink. Exposure to Hg lead to low or no risk for health effects in most populations of marine and terrestrial mammals, however, subpopulations of polar bears, pilot whales, narwhals, beluga and hooded seals are highly exposed in geographic hotspots raising concern for Hg-induced toxicological effects. About 6% of a total of 3500 individuals, across different marine mammal species, age groups and regions, are at high or severe risk of health effects from Hg exposure. The corresponding figure for the 12 terrestrial species, regions and age groups was as low as 0.3% of a total of 731 individuals analyzed for their Hg loads. Temporal analyses indicated that the proportion of polar bears at low or moderate risk has increased in East/West Greenland and Western Hudson Bay, respectively. However, there remain numerous knowledge gaps to improve risk assessments of Hg exposure in Arctic mammalian species, including the establishment of improved concentration thresholds and upscaling to the assessment of population-level effects.

Original languageEnglish
Article number154445
JournalScience of the total Environment
Volume829
ISSN0048-9697
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors

    Research areas

  • Biological effects, Circumpolar Arctic, Marine mammals, Mercury, Terrestrial mammals, Wildlife

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