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A study on the concentration of heavy metals and histopathological changes in Persian jirds (Mammals; Rodentia), affected by mining activities in an iron ore mine in Iran

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Mining activity constitutes a potential source of heavy metal pollution in the environment. Long-term exposure to heavy metals (e.g., cadmium) has adverse health effects. Rodents frequently serve as bioindicators to monitor the levels of heavy metals in the environment. In the present study, concentrations of 10 heavy metals (Cd, Co, Cr, Cu, Fe, Mo, Ni, Pb, Sb, and Zn) in kidney, liver, and muscle tissue of the Persian jird (Meriones persicus) were evaluated. This is the first study to examine the histopathological changes in Persian jird tissues caused by the bioaccumulation heavy metals. The samples were taken at location that surrounded by Sangan Iron Ore Mine (SIOM) mining activities, in northeastern Iran. The results show that the highest concentrations for the metals were observed in kidney and liver, whereas lowest concentrations were found in muscle of Persian jirds. The concentration of Pb was below the limit of detection. Sex and age were two factors that could explain the different levels of heavy metal bioaccumulation, which affects the concentration of some metals. Adults had significantly higher Cu and Cd levels compared to juveniles. Males bioaccumulated more Zn in their kidneys than females, whereas females bioaccumulated more Fe in their livers. As expected, heavy metals affected various organs of the studied specimens. Hyperemia, hemorrhage, necrosis, and degenerative damage to the epithelial cells of the tubules, the presence of hyaline casts, and in one case, mononuclear leukocyte infiltration, were observed in samples of renal tissue. Hemorrhage and hepatocyte vacuolization were the most common histopathological changes found in samples of hepatic tissue. These effects and the concentrations of heavy metals in the studied specimens indicate the need for monitoring and frequent sampling to evaluate long-term persistent pollutants.

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The authors would like to thank the Iranian Department of Environment and the Sangan Iron Ore mine in Khaf, Iran, for their support of this research project. The authors also would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their careful reading of our manuscript and helpful suggestions.


The project was funded by Ferdowsi University of Mashhad (#44692).

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Shahsavari, A., Tabatabaei Yazdi, F., Moosavi, Z. et al. A study on the concentration of heavy metals and histopathological changes in Persian jirds (Mammals; Rodentia), affected by mining activities in an iron ore mine in Iran. Environ Sci Pollut Res 26, 12590–12604 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-019-04646-9

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  • Iron ore mine
  • Pollution
  • Rodents
  • Heavy metals
  • Histopathology