Metal exposure and effects in voles and small birds near a mining haul road in Cape Krusenstern National Monument, Alaska.
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Voles and small passerine birds were live-captured near the Delong Mountain Regional Transportation System (DMTS) haul road in Cape Krusenstern National Monument in northwest Alaska to assess metals exposure and sub-lethal biological effects. Similar numbers of animals were captured from a reference site in southern Cape Krusenstern National Monument for comparison. Histopathological examination of selected organs, and analysis of cadmium, lead, and zinc concentrations in liver and blood samples were performed. Voles and small birds captured from near the haul road had about 20 times greater blood and liver lead concentrations and about three times greater cadmium concentrations when compared to those from the reference site, but there were no differences in zinc tissue concentrations. One vole had moderate metastatic mineralization of kidney tissue, otherwise we observed no abnormalities in internal organs or DNA damage in the blood of any of the animals. The affected vole also had the greatest liver and blood Cd concentration, indicating that the lesion might have been caused by Cd exposure. Blood and liver lead concentrations in animals captured near the haul road were below concentrations that have been associated with adverse biological effects in other studies; however, subtle effects resulting from lead exposure, such as the suppression of the activity of certain enzymes, cannot be ruled out for some individual animals. Results from our 2006 reconnaissance-level study indicate that overall, voles and small birds obtained from near the DMTS road in Cape Krusenstern National Monument were not adversely affected by metals exposure; however, because of the small sample size and other uncertainties, continued monitoring of lead and cadmium in terrestrial habitats near the DMTS road is advised.