Crayfish may transfer ionic lithium from the environment to the food chain

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Crawfish can accumulate lithium, an environmental pollutant, which is expected to increase as battery usage increases, which could have implications for people who eat the crawfish.Credit: Javian Irvin

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Crawfish can accumulate lithium, an environmental pollutant, which is expected to increase as battery usage increases, which could have implications for people who eat the crawfish.Credit: Javian Irvin

Lithium-ion rechargeable batteries power many devices, from cell phones to watches to electric cars. Increasing use of this technology means more lithium could enter the environment as consumers discard electronic products.

Now, researchers explain how lithium accumulates in crayfish, a common southern crustacean. As the season for catching and eating mudbugs is in full swing, researchers’ findings highlight the potential impact on public health and the environment.

The researchers are scheduled to present their findings today at the spring meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

“As aquatic organisms, crayfish can take up large amounts of lithium dissolved in water.Other creatures, including humans, eat crayfish, so observing crayfish provides insight into how lithium travels through the food chain. “We can see how they move and potentially get inside us,” says Joseph Kazaly. , professor of biology.

Andrew Daubert and Javian Irvin, two undergraduate students in Cazaly’s lab at the University of Mississippi, are presenting the results of experiments on the uptake of ionic lithium by various organs in crayfish and the effects of seasonal temperature. “If crawfish are kept near a landfill or contaminated site, spills can expose crawfish to lithium, and the effects are not yet fully understood,” Irvin says. . “This issue is important to me because I myself eat crawfish.”

Lithium contamination is not new. Even before lithium-ion batteries became popular, lithium was used as a treatment for mood disorders and continues to be used today. In these applications, the water enters the feed water because typical wastewater treatment does not remove drug contaminants.

“High levels of lithium can have toxic effects on human health, including potentially damaging heart muscle cells as well as causing confusion and speech disorders. In other animals, , which can cause kidney damage and hypothyroidism. Studies have shown that when lithium accumulates, it can inhibit growth in plants,” Kazaly says.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends that lithium-ion batteries be disposed of at designated collection points, but Cazaly said lithium-ion batteries often end up in landfills. Soaring demand and lax disposal practices suggest lithium is becoming a significant environmental pollutant, he says.


Credit: American Chemical Society

The crayfish (Procambarus clarkii), a fully aquatic organism that spends its entire life within a relatively small range, reflects local lithium pollution and has the potential to serve as a strong biological indicator of crayfish presence in the environment. there is. The lithium they contain can be transmitted through the food chain to predators, including humans, either directly or indirectly through fish that eat the crayfish that humans consume.

For the experiment, the research team purchased crayfish bred for research purposes. Knowing that the liver collects and then removes toxins from the human body, Dubert wondered if lithium might accumulate in the crayfish version of this organ, the hepatopancreas. To find out, he added lithium ions to the diet of five of his crawfish and fed another of his five crawfish a lithium-free diet.

They then looked at the amount of lithium present in their four organs after a week. He found that, on average, the most lithium was present in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, followed by the gills, hepatopancreas, and finally the abdominal muscles of the tail.

Researchers believe that the gastrointestinal tract likely contains the highest levels of lithium because foods spiked with lithium remain in the gastrointestinal tract during digestion. Meanwhile, the gills and hepatopancreas both pick it up when removing it from the body. People primarily eat their tails, which appear to take up lithium, but not as easily as other parts of the body that have been studied.

Dubert also found that 27.5% of the lithium given went from the animals’ gastrointestinal tract to other tissues. Animals further up the food chain can accumulate higher levels of the toxic substance when eating contaminated prey, so lithium may be more concentrated among the crayfish’s predators. The researchers predict that the high absorption rates observed by Deubert will exacerbate this accumulation in both humans and other animals that eat crawfish.

The water temperature in which crayfish live varies greatly throughout the year. These changes affect the animal’s metabolism and can even make it less active during the winter. Knowing this, Irvin decided to investigate the effect of temperature on lithium uptake. He placed crawfish in aquariums kept at temperatures ranging from a minimum of 50 degrees Fahrenheit to a maximum of 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and added a concentration of ionic lithium to the water.

After five days, they found that in the warmest aquariums, there was increased lithium uptake by the abdominal muscles and parts of the crayfish’s exoskeleton that Dubert had not studied. Irvin said these results suggest that animals may contain the most lithium during warmer months.

The crayfish’s body weight also decreased as the water temperature increased. At this point, it’s not clear how or if the crayfish’s weight loss is related to accumulated lithium, Irvin said, and the research team plans to follow up on these results. said.

“While many people think that using lithium-ion batteries is a good thing at the moment, it is important to investigate the possible future effects,” says Debert.

For more information:
Abstract: Effect of temperature on adsorption of emerging pollutants in crayfish.

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