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Identifying sources of exposure to chemical stressors is difficult when both target organisms and stressors are highly mobile. While previous studies have demonstrated that populations of some organisms proximal to urban centers may display increased burdens of human-created chemicals compared to more distal populations, this relationship may not be universal when applied to organisms and stressors capable of transboundary movements. We examined eggs of brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis), a nearshore seabird with daily movements ranging from local to 50 km and annual migrations ranging from year-round residency to 1500 km. Thirty-six eggs from three breeding colonies located at increasing distances to a major urban center (Charleston, South Carolina, USA) were analyzed for concentrations of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Areas of high use for each colony during the breeding season were also assessed via the tracking of adult pelicans from each colony using GPS-PTT satellite transmitters and overlapped with measures of relative urbanization via land cover data. We report potentially significant ∑PFAS concentrations in the eggs of pelicans (175.4 ± 120.1 ng/g w wt. SD), driven largely by linear perfluorooctane sulfonate (n-PFOS) (48–546 ng/g w wt.). Residues of the precursor compound perfluorooctane sulfonamide (FOSA) were also present in pelican eggs, suggesting continued exposure of local wildlife beyond implemented phaseouts of some PFAS. For most analytes, egg concentrations did not exhibit a significant spatial structure despite some differentiation in high-use areas unlike similar data for another regional apex predator, the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus). We suggest that the partially migratory nature of brown pelicans during the non-breeding season, combined with daily ranges that may extend to 50 km from local point sources, may have homogenized exposure across individuals. Charleston likely remains a major source for PFAS in the overall region, however, given the high concentrations observed as well as known releases of PFAS in the nearshore environment.

Publication Title

Science of The Total Environment