DOI: 10.1002/etc.5817 ISSN: 0730-7268

Biodilution Of Organic Species of Arsenic in Freshwater Food Webs

Adam T. Lepage, Gretchen L. Lescord, Alan Lock, Thomas A. Johnston, Jay Gandhi, John M. Gunn
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis
  • Environmental Chemistry


Arsenic can accumulate in freshwater biota, sometimes reaching potentially harmful levels. However, the toxicity of arsenic strongly depends on which arsenic species are present. Although organic species are considered less harmful than inorganic ones, they have not been extensively studied in freshwater environments and drivers of variation in arsenic speciation among sites and taxa remain unclear. We assessed concentrations of two organic arsenic species, arsenobetaine (AsB) and dimethylarsinic acid (DMA), in fish and invertebrates from three lakes near Sudbury, Ontario, Canada—a region with widespread mining impacts. Both AsB and DMA were detected in most samples (n = 212), varying across a wide range of concentrations (<0.001–30.144 and <0.006–5.262 mg/kg dry wt., respectively). The lake with the most severe mining impacts typically had the highest concentrations ([]) of AsB and DMA. In contrast, the percentage of total arsenic made up by AsB (%AsB) and DMA (%DMA) did not vary significantly between lakes. Arsenic speciation in fish muscle varied with fish size, selenium concentrations, and trophic elevation (inferred from nitrogen stable isotope ratios, δ15N), but relationships with dietary carbon source (inferred from carbon stable isotope ratios, δ13C) were more varied. Within all 3 lake food webs, [AsB] and [DMA] typically underwent biodilution, decreasing with trophic elevation (i.e., δ15N). Although the aforementioned factors explained some variation in arsenic speciation, there remains considerable unexplained variation. Further studies on arsenic speciation in freshwater biota should target a wider diversity of taxa to better understand drivers of variation in arsenic speciation. Additionally, work emphasizing the percentage of inorganic arsenic and other organic arsenic species is needed to improve environmental and human health risk assessments.

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