Hamilton Harbour, Ontario, Canada is one of the most polluted sites on the Great Lakes, and is subject to substantial airborne pollution due to emissions from both heavy industry and intense vehicle traffic. Mutagenic Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are present at very high concentrations in the air and sediment of Hamilton Harbour. We used five variable DNA microsatellites to screen for mutations in 97 families of Double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) from three wild colonies, two in Hamilton Harbour and one in cleaner northeastern Lake Erie. Mutations were identified in all five microsatellites at low frequencies, with the majority of mutations found in chicks from the Hamilton Harbour site closest to industrial sources of PAH contamination. Microsatellite mutation rates were 6-fold higher at the Hamilton Harbour site closest to the industrial sources of PAH contamination than the other Hamilton Harbour site, and both were higher than the reference colony. A Phase I metabolite of the PAH benzo[a]pyrene identified by LC-MS/MS in bile and liver from Hamilton Harbour cormorant chicks suggests that these cormorants are exposed to and metabolizing PAHs, highlighting their potential to have caused the observed mutations.
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