Although the raccoon (Procyon lotor) is commonly harvested and consumed throughout the southeastern United States, little is known regarding the fate and effects of environmental pollutants to this species, and the potential for it to act as a contaminant vector to humans or other predators. Muscle and liver tissues were collected from 76 raccoons from locations on and near the Department of Energy's Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina and analyzed for radiocesium (137Cs). Raccoons were trapped from areas near a former reactor cooling reservoir known to be contaminated from former nuclear production activities, a stream drainage system also known to have received 137Cs contamination from low level releases, and 4 on-site reference areas that have been unimpacted by nuclear production activities. Raccoons from 3 hunting areas 3-15 km of SRS were used as off-site reference samples. 137Cs levels differed between the 3 treatment groups (contaminated, on-site reference, off-site reference) for both muscle and liver tissues. Muscle and liver samples from raccoons from on-site reference areas were higher in 137Cs than those from off-site reference animals. 137Cs in raccoon tissues from contaminated habitats exceeded levels in the pooled reference animals. The 2 contaminated areas differed in 137Cs tissue levels. Only 1 of 20 raccoons from contaminated sites on the SRS exceeded the European Economic Community (EEC) limit for 137Cs in edible muscle tissue of 0.6 Bq 137Cs/g fresh-weight edible muscle. Further, none of the raccoons from the on-site reference areas exceeded EEC limits for muscle. It is unlikely that the hunting public faces any significant risk from exposure to raccoons from the SRS. Although some raccoons might stray off the SRS which is closed to public access, most of the heavily contaminated areas are not adjacent to the edges of the site, decreasing the potential for off-site movement of contaminated animals.
Gaines, Karen F.; Lord, Christine G.; Boring, C. Shane; Brisbin, I. Lehr Jr.; Gochfeld, Michael; and Burger, Joanna, "Raccoons as potential vectors of radionuclide contamination to human food chains from a nuclear industrial site" (2000). Faculty Research & Creative Activity. Paper 59.