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Dioxins in Great Lakes fish: Past, present and implications for future monitoring

Gandhi, Nilima, Gewurtz, Sarah B., Drouillard, Ken G., Kolic, Terry, MacPherson, Karen, Reiner, Eric J., Bhavsar, Satyendra P.
Chemosphere 2019 v.222 pp. 479-488
Coregonus clupeaformis, Salvelinus namaycush, data collection, diet, dioxins, fillets, fish, freshwater, furans, human health, indicator species, ingestion, monitoring, risk, toxicity, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, Ontario
Dioxins/furans are considered among the most toxic anthropogenic chemicals, and are ubiquitous in the environment including in the North American Great Lakes, which contain one fifth of the world's surface freshwater. Our exposure to dioxins/furans is mainly through contaminated diet. Elevated levels of dioxins/furans in Great Lakes fish have resulted in issuance of fish consumption advisories. Here we examine spatial/temporal trends of dioxins/furans in the edible portion (fillet) of fish from the Canadian waters of the Great Lakes using the data collected by the Province of Ontario, Canada. Our analyses show that the Toxic Equivalent (TEQ) dioxin/furan concentrations declined between 1989 and 2013 in Lake Trout from Lakes Ontario, Huron and Superior by 91%, 78% and 73%, respectively, but increased in Lake Whitefish from Lake Erie by 138%. An expanded dataset created by combining our data with historical Lake Ontario Lake Trout measurements from the literature showed a greater decline of >96% (from 64 to 2.3 pg/g) between 1977 and 2013. Measurements collected for 30 types of fish show overall low levels but local/regional concerns at some locations in Lakes Huron, Erie and Ontario. Dioxins/furans are globally present in foodstuff and “zero concentration” target is considered impractical. Based on the observations for the Great Lakes in the context of risk to human health from eating fish, it is concluded that comprehensive monitoring of dioxins/furans can be replaced with targeted locations and/or indicator species, and the saved resources can be more efficiently utilized for monitoring of other priority or emerging contaminants.