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Lead exposure in consumers of culled invasive alien mammals in El Palmar National Park, Argentina


Consumption of meat from animals hunted with Pb ammunition can cause toxic accumulation with consequent health risks, even if relatively small amounts are consumed in each exposure. In El Palmar National Park, Argentina, invasive alien mammals, wild boar (Sus scrofa) and axis deer (Axis axis), are culled with Pb ammunition and their meat is consumed. In this study, we evaluated blood Pb concentrations in 58 consumers of culled game and examined Pb exposure risk according to their demographics, duty, and consumption habits. Likewise, the likelihood of exposure was evaluated by quantifying Pb concentrations in meat samples of seven culled axis deer. Twenty-seven participants (46%) had detectable blood Pb levels (limit of detection = 3.3 μg/dL), with an average 4.75 ± 1.35 μg/dL (geometric mean ± geometric S.D.); the average for all participants was 3.25 ± 1.51 μg/dL. Blood Pb concentrations were significantly higher in hunters, in participants who reported consuming game meat more than 5 times per week, and in participants who reported frequently consuming cured game meat (compared to cooked or pickled). Pb concentration varied significantly along the trajectory of the bullet in deer muscle, being highest at mid-point but with detectable Pb levels even in distant tissue samples (control), suggesting potential for dietary intake by consumers. These findings provide evidence of Pb exposure risk in consumers and emphasize the relevance of replacing Pb ammunition with non-toxic alternatives. This change would reduce dietary exposure in frequent consumers and allow the use of game meat as safe food for people whilst eliminating collateral risks to wild animals and the environment.

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We thank G. Wiemeyer for lending the LeadCare® II device, and S. Barandiaran and J. Uhart for logistical support. Special thanks are due to El Palmar National Park (EPNP) staff, especially L. Loyza, J. Yone, E. Munich, J. Zermathen, R. Achilli, J. Ballay, E. Bouvet, I. Ovelar, D. Lugreen, E Perrón, M. Panziera, M. Cardoso, and A. Maranta. We are also thankful to J.M. Hervás, C. Lipuma, and E. Ochoa, EPNP managers. We thank members of the Conservación Tierra de Palmares hunting club and the independent hunters group. We are grateful to those who voluntarily enrolled in the study and to San Benjamín Public Hospital staff, especially the biochemists, vaccinators, and radiologists. We acknowledge Administración de Parques Nacionales for launching Pb ammunition replacement for alien species control in 2019 and the Programa de Conservación Comunitaria del Territorio (UNICEN) for promoting wildlife conservation and human well-being through a One Health approach. We thank volunteers C. Villalba, M. Bartolotta, P. Ferrer, A. Aguiar, B. Resler, E. Amatte, M. Funes, and M. Guerrero. We are especially grateful to WWW Foundation and Secretaría de Políticas Universitarias (Ministerio de Educación, Cultura, Ciencia y Tecnología, Argentina) for funding this work. Delegación Centro-Este de la Administración de Parques Nacionales provided research permits (IF-2019-46151534-APN-DNC # APNAC).

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The study on its data collection phase was funded by WWW Foundation and Secretaría de Políticas Universitarias del Ministerio de Educación, Cultura, Ciencia y Tecnología, Argentina (reference number 105/19, Expte. 2018-14465730).

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All authors contributed to the study conception and design. Material preparation, data collection, and analysis were performed by AEC, AT, WEC, VF, RETV, and MMU. The first draft of the manuscript was written by MMU, AT, and VF, and all authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Agostina Tammone.

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Ethics approval and consent to participate

All procedures performed in this study involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the Argentinean National Research Committee (Central Committee of Bioethics in Practice and Biomedical Research of the city of Paraná, Entre Ríos province, reference number 2312401) and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

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Responsible Editor: Lotfi Aleya

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Tammone, A., Caselli, A.E., Condorí, W.E. et al. Lead exposure in consumers of culled invasive alien mammals in El Palmar National Park, Argentina. Environ Sci Pollut Res 28, 42432–42443 (2021).

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  • Alien species control
  • Dietary exposure
  • Food safety
  • Game meat
  • Lead ammunition
  • Public health
  • Wildlife culling