Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology

, Volume 53, Issue 2, pp 287-292

First online:

Increased Thyroid Hormone Levels in Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) on Reclaimed Wetlands of the Athabasca Oil Sands

  • Marie-Line GentesAffiliated withDepartment of Veterinary Pathology, University of Saskatchewan
  • , Anne McNabbAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, Virginia Tech
  • , Cheryl WaldnerAffiliated withDepartment of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, University of Saskatchewan
  • , Judit E. G. SmitsAffiliated withDepartment of Veterinary Pathology, University of Saskatchewan Email author 

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The oil sands of Alberta, Canada are one of the world’s largest reserves of crude oil. Oil sands mining companies are now investigating the ecological impacts of reclamation strategies in which wetlands are used for the bioremediation of waste materials. To examine the endocrine disrupting potential of chemicals in Oil Sands Process Materials (OSPM), thyroid hormone concentrations were measured in plasma and thyroid glands of nestling tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) from wetlands partly filled with mine tailings. Plasma triiodothyronine (T3) concentrations and thyroxine (T4) content within thyroid glands were elevated in nestlings from OSPM sites compared to those from the reference site. Results suggested enhanced hormone synthesis by the thyroid glands independently of activation of the pituitary–thyroid axis, as well as increased deiodination of T4 into T3 in peripheral tissues. This might have resulted from exposure to oil sands associated chemicals such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and from environmental factors such as food availability. Modulation of thyroid function might have negative effects on metabolism, behavior, feather development, and molt, which could compromise postfledging survival.