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Rare earth elements in freshwater, marine, and terrestrial ecosystems in the eastern Canadian Arctic

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Abstract

Few ecotoxicological studies exist for rare earth elements (REEs), particularly field-based studies on their bioaccumulation and food web dynamics. REE mining has led to significant environmental impacts in several countries (China, Brazil, U.S.), yet little is known about the fate and transport of these contaminants of emerging concern. Northern ecosystems are potentially vulnerable to REE enrichment from prospective mining projects at high latitudes. To understand how REEs behave in remote northern food webs, we measured REE concentrations and carbon and nitrogen stable isotope ratios (∂15N, ∂13C) in biota from marine, freshwater, and terrestrial ecosystems of the eastern Canadian Arctic (N = 339). Wildlife harvesting and tissue sampling was partly conducted by local hunters through a community-based monitoring project. Results show that REEs generally follow a coherent bioaccumulation pattern for sample tissues, with some anomalies for redox-sensitive elements (Ce, Eu). Highest REE concentrations were found at low trophic levels, especially in vegetation and aquatic invertebrates. Terrestrial herbivores, ringed seal, and fish had low total REE levels in muscle tissue (∑REE for 15 elements <0.1 nmol g−1), yet accumulation was an order of magnitude higher in liver tissues. Age- and length-dependent REE accumulation also suggest that REE uptake is faster than elimination for some species. Overall, REE bioaccumulation patterns appear to be species- and tissue-specific, with limited potential for biomagnification. This study provides novel data on the behaviour of REEs in ecosystems and will be useful for environmental impact assessment of REE enrichment in northern regions.

Graphical abstract: Rare earth elements in freshwater, marine, and terrestrial ecosystems in the eastern Canadian Arctic

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Publication details

The article was received on 15 Feb 2017, accepted on 23 Aug 2017 and first published on 31 Aug 2017


Article type: Paper
DOI: 10.1039/C7EM00082K
Citation: Environ. Sci.: Processes Impacts, 2017, Advance Article
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    Rare earth elements in freshwater, marine, and terrestrial ecosystems in the eastern Canadian Arctic

    G. A. MacMillan, J. Chételat, J. P. Heath, R. Mickpegak and M. Amyot, Environ. Sci.: Processes Impacts, 2017, Advance Article , DOI: 10.1039/C7EM00082K

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