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Keywords:

  • Oil sands;
  • Bird eggs;
  • PAHs;
  • Mercury;
  • Athabasca River

Abstract

In 2009, aquatic bird eggs from a variety of species were collected from three sites in northern Alberta, Canada. Two sites were located in receiving waters of the Athabasca River, which drains the oil sands industrial region north of Fort McMurray, Alberta. The third site, located on the Peace River, was remote from the influence of the Athabasca River. Levels of mercury, arsenic, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) were measured in the eggs along with nitrogen stable isotopes (δ15N) as an indicator of bird trophic position. Levels of As and PAHs in eggs were low, whereas Hg was measureable in all samples. Egg Hg levels increased with δ15N values (a proxy of food web trophic position); however, some eggs exhibited Hg levels greater than expected based on trophic position. These eggs were from sites in receiving waters of the Athabasca River, namely, Mamawi Lake and Egg Island. Levels of Hg in egg pools were correlated with naphthalene levels, perhaps indicating a common source of contamination. Temporal comparison of Hg levels in California gull (Larus californicus) eggs from the Lake Athabasca colony indicated that egg Hg burdens increased 40% from 1977 to 2009. More research is required to evaluate temporal trends in levels of environmental contaminants and to identify sources. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2011; 30:1178–1183. © 2011 SETAC