Radionuclide Contaminant Burdens in Arctic Marine Mammals Harvested During Subsistence Hunting
Keywords:137Cs, contamination, marine mammals, North Slope Borough, radioactivity, radionuclides, Resolute, 108mAg, subsistence hunting
We conducted gamma spectrometric analyses on more than 200 arctic marine mammal tissue samples. These samples were primarily provided by subsistence hunters from northern Alaska, with a smaller number of samples from the Resolute region in Canada. The majority of samples (>90%) had detectable levels of the anthropogenic radionuclide 137Cs, with a mean level observed in all samples of 0.67 Bq/kg dry weight ± 0.81 (SD). Converted to wet weight, the mean was 0.21 Bq/kg ± 0.19 SD. The median activity observed was 0.45 Bq/kg dry weight (0.18 Bq/kg wet weight) with a range from detection limits to 6.7 Bq/kg dry weight (1.1 Bq/kg wet weight). These findings confirm expectations that current anthropogenic gamma emitter burdens in marine mammals used in the North American Arctic as subsistence food resources are well below activities that would normally merit public health concern (~1000 Bq/kg wet weight). Some differences among species and tissues were observed. Beluga tissues had slightly higher mean burdens of 137Cs overall, and epidermis and muscle tissues in bowhead and beluga whales typically had higher burdens than other tissues analyzed. Low levels of the neutron activation product 108mAg (half-life 418 yr.), probably bioaccumulated from bomb fallout sources, were observed in 16 of 17 beluga livers analyzed, but were not found in any other tissues of beluga or in any other species sampled. A subset of 39 samples of various tissues was analyzed for the alpha and beta emitters 239,240Pu and 90Sr. Plutonium levels were near the threshold of detectability (~0.1 Bq/kg dry weight) in 6 of the 39 samples; all other samples had no detectable plutonium. A detectable level of 90Sr (10.3 ± 1.0 Bq/kg dry weight) was observed in only one of the 39 samples analyzed, a bowhead epidermis sample. Although the accumulation of 108mAg has not been previously reported in any marine mammal livers, all of our analytical measurements indicate that only very low levels of anthropogenic radioactivity are associated with marine mammals harvested and consumed in the North American Arctic.