Polychlorinated biphenyl profiles in ringed seals (Pusa Hispida) reveal historical contamination by a military radar station in Labrador, Canada



Significant amounts of soil contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were discovered at a military radar station in Saglek Bay, Labrador, Canada, in 1996. Subsequent work showed elevated PCB concentrations in local marine sediments, in the benthic-associated food web, and in some ringed seals (Pusa hispida). The benthic-associated food web clearly reflected local PCB contamination, but the high PCB concentrations found in some ringed seals remained unexplained. In the present study, the authors assess the extent to which this local PCB source at Saglek Bay is contributing to the contamination of ringed seals in northern Labrador. Among 63 ringed seals sampled along the northern Labrador coast, 5 (8%) had PCB levels that were higher than recorded anywhere else in the Canadian Arctic. In addition, compared with seals exhibiting a long-range signal, 45% and 60% of subadults and adult males, respectively, exhibited heavier PCB congener profiles as characterized by principal components analysis, >1.6-fold higher PCB/organochlorine pesticides ratios, and higher PCB concentration-weighted average log octanol–water partition coefficient values, consistent with a local source. Despite the spatially confined nature of contaminated sediments in Saglek Bay, the influence of this PCB source is not inconsequential; PCB concentrations in locally contaminated adult males are 2-fold higher than concentrations in those exposed only to long-range PCB sources and exceed an established threshold of 1.3 mg/kg for adverse health effects in seals. Environ Toxicol Chem 2014;33:592–601. © 2013 SETAC