Uranium and Associated Heavy Metals in Ovis aries in a Mining Impacted Area in Northwestern New Mexico.


The objective of this study was to determine uranium (U) and other heavy metal (HM) concentrations (As, Cd, Pb, Mo, and Se) in tissue samples collected from sheep (Ovis aries), the primary meat staple on the Navajo reservation in northwestern New Mexico. The study setting was a prime target of U mining, where more than 1100 unreclaimed abandoned U mines and structures remain. The forage and water sources for the sheep in this study were located within 3.2 km of abandoned U mines and structures. Tissue samples from sheep (n = 3), their local forage grasses (n = 24), soil (n = 24), and drinking water (n = 14) sources were collected. The samples were analyzed using Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry. Results: In general, HMs concentrated more in the roots of forage compared to the above ground parts. The sheep forage samples fell below the National Research Council maximum tolerable concentration (5 mg/kg). The bioaccumulation factor ratio was >1 in several forage samples, ranging from 1.12 to 16.86 for Mo, Cd, and Se. The study findings showed that the concentrations of HMs were greatest in the liver and kidneys. Of the calculated human intake, Se Reference Dietary Intake and Mo Recommended Dietary Allowance were exceeded, but the tolerable upper limits for both were not exceeded. Food intake recommendations informed by research are needed for individuals especially those that may be more sensitive to HMs. Further study with larger sample sizes is needed to explore other impacted communities across the reservation

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