The identification of lead ammunition as a source of lead exposure in First Nations: the use of lead isotope ratios

Sci Total Environ. 2008 Apr 15;393(2-3):291-8. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2008.01.022. Epub 2008 Feb 12.


The use of lead shotshell to hunt water birds has been associated with lead-contamination in game meat. However, evidence illustrating that lead shotshell is a source of lead exposure in subsistence hunting groups cannot be deemed definitive. This study seeks to determine whether lead shotshell constitutes a source of lead exposure using lead isotope ratios. We examined stable lead isotope ratios for lichens, lead shotshell and bullets, and blood from residents of Fort Albany and Kashechewan First Nations, and the City of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Data were analyzed using ANOVA and regression analyses. ANOVA of isotope ratios for blood revealed significant differences with respect to location, but not sex. Hamilton differed from both Kashechewan and Fort Albany; however, the First Nations did not differ from each other. ANOVA of the isotope ratios for lead ammunition and lichens revealed no significant differences between lichen groups (north and south) and for the lead ammunition sources (pellets and bullets). A plot of (206)Pb/(204)Pb and (206)Pb/(207)Pb values illustrated that lichens and lead ammunition were distinct groupings and only the 95% confidence ellipse of the First Nations group overlapped that of lead ammunition. In addition, partial correlations between blood-lead levels (adjusted for age) and isotope ratios revealed significant (p<0.05) positive correlations for (206)Pb/(204)Pb and (206)Pb/(207)Pb, and a significant negative correlation for (208)Pb/(206)Pb, as predicted if leaded ammunition were the source of lead exposure. In conclusion, lead ammunition was identified as a source of lead exposure for First Nations people; however, the isotope ratios for lead shotshell pellets and bullets were indistinguishable. Thus, lead-contaminated meat from game harvested with lead bullets may also be contributing to the lead body burden.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Environmental Pollutants / analysis*
  • Environmental Pollutants / blood
  • Environmental Pollutants / metabolism
  • Female
  • Firearms*
  • Humans
  • Isotopes / analysis*
  • Lead / analysis*
  • Lead / blood
  • Lead / metabolism
  • Lichens / metabolism
  • Male
  • Ontario


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Isotopes
  • Lead