Cadmium toxicity to ringed seals (Phoca hispida): an epidemiological study of possible cadmium-induced nephropathy and osteodystrophy in ringed seals (Phoca hispida) from Qaanaaq in Northwest Greenland.
The Greenland marine food chains contain high levels of cadmium, mercury and selenium. Concentrations of cadmium in the kidney of ringed seals (Phoca hispida) from the municipalities of Qaanaaq and Upernavik (Northwest Greenland) are among the highest recorded in the Arctic. The purpose of the study was to determine whether cadmium-induced damage in the kidneys and the skeletal system could be detected among 100 ringed seals from Northwest Greenland. The cadmium concentrations in the kidney cortex ranged from 0 to 248 microg/g wet weight (mean=44.5, N=100) in the 99 kidneys examined. Experience from cadmium-poisoned humans and laboratory mammals indicates that concentrations above 50-200 microg/g wet wt. may induce histopathological changes. Overall, 31 of the ringed seals had cadmium concentrations in the kidney cortex above 50 microg/g wet wt., 11 had concentrations above 100 and one had a concentration above 200 microg/g wet wt. Obvious histopathological changes (categorised mainly as glomerulonephritis) were found in 10 of the seals; however, none of these changes could be attributed to cadmium-induced renal damage (mainly tubulopathy) as described for other species. Damage to the proximal kidney tubules is known to induce demineralisation of the skeletal system (Fanconi's syndrome). Therefore, the three lowest lumbar vertebrae were scanned in 91 seals to measure the content of calcium. The 10 cases of nephropathy could neither be linked to the degree of mineralisation of the skeleton nor to the cadmium concentrations. Furthermore, the degree of mineralisation of the skeleton was not correlated with the cadmium concentration, age or sex. It can therefore be concluded that despite high levels of cadmium, none of the ringed seals showed any signs of cadmium-induced nephropathy or osteodystrophy. This might be explained by the composition of the ringed seals diet, which contains high levels of vitamin D, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, selenium and protein. These elements are all likely to counteract cadmium-induced damage. It is speculated that ringed seal are not particularly vulnerable to osteodystrophy, due to their continuous growth (bone mineralisation) throughout life and the oestrogen hormonal activity of females throughout life.