Element levels in snakes in South Carolina: Differences between a control site and exposed site on the Savannah River Site

J. Burger, S. Murray, K. F. Gaines, J. M. Novak, T. Punshon, C. Dixon, M. Gochfeld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Levels of 18 elements, including lead, mercury, selenium, and uranium, were examined in three species of snakes from an exposed and reference site on the Department of Energy's Savannah River Site in South Carolina. We tested the hypotheses that there were no differences as a function of species, and there were no difference between the exposed and control site for blood and muscle (tail) samples for banded water snake (Nerodia fasciata), brown water snake (N. taxispilota) and cottonmouth (Akistrodon piscivorous). The banded water snakes collected were significantly smaller than the other two species. For blood, there were significant species differences only for barium, copper, selenium, uranium and zinc, while for muscle tissue there were significant interspecific differences in aluminum, arsenic, barium, cobalt, cesium, copper, iron, lead, mercury, manganese, strontium, vanadium and zinc, suggesting that muscle tissue in the tail is a better indicator of potential interspecific differences. It is also easier logistically to collect tail tissue than blood. Where one species had significantly higher levels than the other species in muscle tissue levels, cottonmouth had higherlevels of five elements (aluminum, cobalt, lead, mercury, vanadium), brown water snake had two (lead, strontium), and banded water snake had only barium. There were few significant differences between the control and reference site for levels of blood, but several for muscle tissue. All three species had significantly higher levels of arsenic and manganese at Tim's Branch than the reference site, and nickel and uranium were significantly higher for banded watersnake and cottonmouth, the larger species. Individuals with high exposure of one element were exposed to high levels of other elements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)35-52
Number of pages18
JournalEnvironmental monitoring and assessment
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Jan 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Pollution
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


  • Bioindicators
  • Cottonmouth
  • Elements
  • Heavy metals
  • Water snakes


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