Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology

, Volume 51, Issue 2, pp 270-286

First online:

Polychlorinated Biphenyl Concentrations, Congener Profiles, and Ratios in the Fat Tissue, Eggs, and Plasma of Snapping Turtles (Chelydra s. serpentina) from the Ohio Basin of Lake Erie, USA

  • H. DabrowskaAffiliated withCollege of Biological Sciences, The Ohio State UniversityInternational Centre for Ecology, Polish Academy for Sciences Email author 
  • , S. W. FisherAffiliated withCollege of Biological Sciences, The Ohio State University
  • , J. EstenikAffiliated withThe Ohio Environmental Protection Agency
  • , R. KidekhelAffiliated withThe Ohio Environmental Protection Agency
  • , P. StrombergAffiliated withCollege of Veterinary Medicine, The Ohio State University

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Concentrations and profiles of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were determined in three tissues of adult snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina serpentina) from six locations in the Ohio Basin of Lake Erie to characterize tissue variation and geographic trends. The locations included the Ohio Areas of Concern, i.e., the Ashtabula, Black, and Maumee Rivers; the Ottawa River near Toledo; and two reference sites. Mean total PCBs were greatest in turtles from the Ottawa River followed by the Maumee, Ashtabula, and Black Rivers. All three types of samples—fat tissue (FT), eggs, and plasma—showed the same geographic trend in PCB levels. On a wet-weight basis, mean concentrations ranged from 2148 to 18,669 ng/g in FT, from 183 to 3683 ng/g in eggs, and from 18 to 201 ng/g in plasma. Across all sites, total PCB concentrations between the tissues were significantly correlated (0.001 < p < 0.005; Pearson correlation coefficient (r P ) was between 0.720 and 0.954). Two distinctly different profiles with respect to relative congener and homologue concentrations were found among the sites. One that included four of the six sites examined was characterized by hexa-chlorobiphenyl (hexa-CB) dominance followed by hepta-CBs, with PCBs no. 138 + 163, 153 + 132 + 105, and 180 being the most abundant congeners. The second profile, specific for turtles from the Ottawa River, was different from the first in that tetra-CBs were the most abundant congeners followed by hexa-CBs. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) indicated significant intertissue differences in the PCB homologue profiles, i.e., FT had a higher percentage of hepta-, octa-, and nona-CBs compared with eggs and plasma, whereas eggs showed a higher percentage of hexa-CBs. At any listed location, FT, eggs, and plasma had the same congener profile. An intertissue distribution of lipid-normalized individual congener concentrations examined by regression analyses revealed significant egg–FT, egg–plasma, and FT–plasma relations for >40 congeners (0.001 < p < 0.05). The distribution ratios determined for these congeners from the slope of the regression lines averaged 1.235 ± 0.279, 0.430 ± 0.170, and 0.387 ± 0.115, respectively. The plasma wet weight–FT lipid-normalized concentration ratios for these congeners averaged 0.012 ± 0.006. Both egg–FT and plasma wet weight–FT lipid-normalized ratios regressed against log Kow showed significant decreases, with increasing log Kow, indicating greater accumulation of highly chlorinated congeners in FT than in other compartments. The estimated 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin toxic equivalents ranged from 0.007 ng/g at reference sites to 0.060 ng/g at contaminated sites and from 0.099 to 1.992 ng/g in plasma and eggs, respectively. In both plasma and eggs, coplanar-CBs were the major contributors to total toxic equivalents (TEQs). Eggs from all contaminated sites had TEQs that exceeded the lowest observed effect level TEQs proposed for bald eagle chicks, in addition to high ΣPCB levels at some of these sites, especially the Ottawa and Maumee River sites, indicate potentially increased risk to turtles and possibly other wildlife species inhabiting these ecosystems. Significant correlations of total PCBs and individual congeners between FT, eggs, and plasma indicate that blood sampling can provide a good nonlethal measure of PCB exposure and can be used to monitor environmental contamination.