Mercury, lead and lead isotope ratios in the teeth of moose (Alces alces) from Isle Royale, U.S. upper midwest, from 1952 to 2002

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Assessing the effect of recent reductions in atmospheric pollution on metal concentrations in wildlife in North America has been difficult because of the sparse availability of historical samples with which to establish a "pre-regulation" baseline, and because many ecosystems may be affected by local point sources which could obscure broader-scale trends. Here we report a recent 50 yr annual record of Hg, Pb and Pb isotope ratios in the teeth of a resident population of moose (Alces alces) in Isle Royale National Park, a relatively remote island in Lake Superior, Michigan, USA. During the early 1980s, concentrations of tooth Hg abruptly declined by ∼65% compared to the previous 30 years (p < 0.001), similar to a previous study of Hg in herring gull eggs in the Great Lakes region. Lead declined at the same time, and by 2002 Pb in adult moose teeth was ∼80% lower than it had been prior to the early 1980s (p < 0.001). These trends were unaffected by normalization against the geogenic elements La and Sr, which indicates that the trends in Hg and Pb had an anthropogenic cause. Temporal patterns of Pb isotope ratios suggested that the primary sources of Pb at different times in the moose were combustion of U.S. coal and leaded gasoline. Reductions in emissions from coal combustion might explain the co-incident reductions of Hg and Pb in Isle Royale moose, with elimination of alkyl Pb additives also playing a role in the continued tooth Pb reductions after 1983. © 2009 The Royal Society of Chemistry.

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Journal of Environmental Monitoring