Lactational transfer of mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls in polar bears. Academic Article uri icon


  • We examined concentrations of total mercury (tHg, inorganic and methylated forms) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in blood and milk from free-ranging Southern Beaufort-Chukchi Sea polar bears (Ursus maritimus) to assess maternal transfer of contaminants during lactation and the potential health risk to nursing young. Concentrations of contaminants in the blood of dependent and juvenile animals (ages 1-5 years) ranged from 35.9 to 52.2 g kg(-1) ww for tHg and 13.9 to 52.2 g kg(-1) ww (3255.81-11067.79 g kg(-1) lw) for PCB(7)s, similar to those of adult females, but greater than adult males. Contaminant concentrations in milk ranged from 5.7 to 71.8 g tHg kg(-1)ww and 160 to 690 g PCB(11)s kg(-1) ww (547-5190 g kg(-1) lw). The daily intake levels for tHg by milk consumption estimated for dependent young were below the tolerable daily intake level (TDIL) of tHg established for adult humans. Although the daily intake levels of PCBs through milk consumption for cubs of the year exceeded the TDIL thresholds, calculated dioxin equivalents for PCBs in milk were below adverse physiological thresholds for aquatic mammals. Relatively high concentrations of non-dioxin like PCBs in polar bear milk and blood could impact endocrine function of Southern Beaufort-Chukchi Sea polar bears, but this is uncertain. Transfer of contaminants during mid to late lactation likely limits bioaccumulation of dietary contaminants in female polar bears during spring. As polar bears respond to changes in their arctic sea ice habitat, the adverse health impacts associated with nutritional stress may be exacerbated by tHg and PCBs exposure, especially in ecologically and toxicologically sensitive polar bear cohorts such as reproductive females and young.

published proceedings

  • Chemosphere

author list (cited authors)

  • Knott, K. K., Boyd, D., Ylitalo, G. M., & O'Hara, T. M.

complete list of authors

  • Knott, Katrina K||Boyd, Daryle||Ylitalo, Gina M||O'Hara, Todd M

publication date

  • January 1, 2012 11:11 AM