Mercury and halogenated organic contaminants in river otters (Lontra canadensis) in New Jersey, USA



Liver samples collected from New Jersey river otters (Lontra canadensis) in 2005 and 2007 were tested for Hg, organochlorine (OC) pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDDs), polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs), and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). The highest mercury concentrations were found in otters living in the Pinelands region, where acidic soils and surface waters enhance Hg bioavailability. The highest individual Hg concentration was 19.8 µg/g wet weight, approximately 60% of the experimentally determined lethal threshold. Concentrations of OC pesticides were generally similar to those in otters from areas of Oregon and Washington close to agricultural and industrial sources. The geometric mean total PCB concentration (540 ng/g wet wt) was similar to the concentration in otters from the heavily populated and industrialized lower Columbia River in Oregon and Washington. Seven liver samples that were among the highest in terms of total PCBs were analyzed for PCDDs and PCDFs. Polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins were detected in six of the samples at total concentrations ranging from 172 to 2,783 pg/g wet weight. Polychlorinated dibenzofurans were detected in three of the samples at total concentrations ranging from 1.50 to 2,719 pg/g wet weight. The geometric mean PBDE concentration was 10.6 ng/g wet weight, with a range of 0.82 to 436 ng/g wet weight. No statistically significant relationship was observed between liver contaminant concentrations and land use within an 8-km radius of the trapping location. Overall, the data suggest that contaminant concentrations are not high enough to adversely affect the overall otter population in New Jersey. However, contaminant-related effects on the health or reproductive success of individual otters in some areas are possible. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2010;29:2235–2242. © 2010 SETAC