Chronic Ingestion of Coal Fly-Ash Contaminated Prey and Its Effects on Health and Immune Parameters in Juvenile American Alligators (Alligator mississippiensis)

  • John W. FingerJr.
  • Matthew T. Hamilton
  • Brian S. Metts
  • Travis C. Glenn
  • Tracey D. Tuberville


Coal-burning power plants supply approximately 37 % of the electricity in the United States. However, incomplete combustion produces ash wastes enriched with toxic trace elements that have historically been disposed of in aquatic basins. Organisms inhabiting such habitats may accumulate these trace elements; however, studies investigating the effects on biota have been primarily restricted to shorter-lived, lower-trophic organisms. The American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), a long-lived, top-trophic carnivore, has been observed inhabiting these basins, yet the health or immune effects of chronic exposure and possible accumulation remains unknown. In this study, we investigated how chronic dietary ingestion of prey contaminated with coal combustion wastes (CCWs) for 25 months, and subsequent accumulation of trace elements present in CCWs, affected juvenile alligator immune function and health. Alligators were assigned to one of four dietary-treatment groups including controls and those fed prey contaminated with CCWs for one, two, or three times a week. However, no effect of Dietary Treatment (p > 0.05) was observed on any immune parameter or hematological or plasma analyte we tested. Our results suggest that neither exposure to nor accumulation of low doses of CCWs had a negative effect on certain aspects of the immune and hematological system. However, future studies are required to elucidate this further.


Packed Cell Volume Coal Combustion Waste Savannah River Site American Alligator Splenic Mass 
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Support was provided in part by Award Number DE-FC09-07SR22506 from Department of Energy to the University of Georgia Research Foundation. All experimental protocols were approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee at the University of Georgia (Approval No. A2010 11-561-Y3-A3). J. W. F. was funded by the Interdisciplinary Toxicology Program and the Department of Environmental Health Science at the University of Georgia. MTH and all sample analysis was funded by a grant from the Area Closures Project to T. D. T. We thank David E. Scott and Stacey L. Lance for their assistance with project design and dissections. Brett DeGregorio was instrumental in setting up the experimental tanks; Caitlin Kupar assisted with the collection of prey, and Matthew Atkinson helped conduct PHA assays on alligators. We would also like to thank John Seaman at SREL for guidance on tissue digestions and data interpretation. Thanks must also be extended to Suresh Benedict at Berrimah Veterinary Laboratories in Berrimah, NT, Australia, for advisement on BKAs and to Peter C. Thomson at the University of Sydney for statistical insight.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • John W. FingerJr.
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 5
  • Matthew T. Hamilton
    • 2
    • 4
  • Brian S. Metts
    • 2
    • 6
  • Travis C. Glenn
    • 1
    • 3
  • Tracey D. Tuberville
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Environmental Health ScienceUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  2. 2.Savannah River Ecology LaboratoryUniversity of GeorgiaAikenUSA
  3. 3.Interdisciplinary Toxicology ProgramUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  4. 4.Warnell School of Forestry and Natural ResourcesUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  5. 5.Department of Biological SciencesAuburn UniversityAuburnUSA
  6. 6.Grovetown Middle SchoolGrovetownUSA

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