John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Sublethal health effects in laboratory rodents from environmentally relevant exposures to oil sands contaminants

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Increasing activity of oil sands extraction and processing in northern Alberta is marked by ongoing controversy about the nature and extent of associated environmental impacts. Bitumen contains a mixture of toxic chemicals, including metals and residual polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), whose release into the environment poses a distinct risk to the surrounding environment, plus wildlife and human health. In the present study, we evaluated several subclinical biomarkers of exposure and effect to mixtures of metals (Pb, Cd, and Hg) and/or PAHs (three alkylated forms) at environmentally relevant concentrations (100‐ and 10‐fold higher than the maximum dissolved concentrations found in snow, to simulate a worst case scenario), using laboratory mice as a model for future studies of small mammals in the wild. Both metals and alkyl‐PAHs exposure were associated with i) increased relative liver, kidney, and spleen size, ii) alterations in the homeostasis of the antioxidant vitamins A and E in liver, and iii) compromised glutathione redox status in testes, with results also indicating synergistic interactions from co‐exposure. The combination of morphometric and oxidative stress biomarkers provide reliable and sensitive measures of the response to contaminant exposure in a mammalian model, suggesting associated physiological costs. Based on this experimental study, we propose that wild small mammals will prove to be valuable sentinel species reflecting sublethal health effects from oil sands related contaminants. As well, these results present a basis for the interpretation of future field data. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved

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