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Algal toxicity tests for environmental risk assessments of metals
Janssen, C.R.; Heijerick, D.G. (2003). Algal toxicity tests for environmental risk assessments of metals. Rev. Environ. Cont. Tox. 178: 23-52
In: Reviews of environmental contamination and toxicology. Springer-Verlag: New York, N.Y.. ISSN 0179-5953; e-ISSN 2197-6554, more
Peer reviewed article  

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  • Janssen, C.R., more
  • Heijerick, D.G., more

    Current regulatory methods for assessing the effects of contaminants, and metals in particular, rely mainly on a limited number of standardized test methods and test species (OECD, ISO, ASTM, USEPA). However, these test protocols allow a certain degree of freedom in relation to physicochemical parameters or biological aspects, which may lead to large variability in test results. The current review, based on effects data and theoretical considerations reported in the literature, tried to determine and quantify the effect of variation of these factors on the outcome of metal toxicity tests with algae. Major physicochemical parameters that affect metal toxicity to algae are hardness, pH, preculture conditions, type of test medium, and presence of chelating agents: Literature data also clearly demonstrate the importance of test species or strain selection (inter- and intraspecies sensitivity variability) on the outcome of algal toxicity tests. For Zn, a factor of 8.3 is observed between the NOEC for Selenastrum capricornutum (currently renamed Pseudokirchneriella subcapitata) and Croococcus paris. An intraspecies difference for S. capricornutum of a factor of 60 is observed between various reported EC50S for Cd. Next to differences in physicochemical test conditions, possible adaptation or acclimation to deficient/elevated metal concentrations add to the reported differences: S. capricornutum became three times less sensitive to Zn when acclimated to 65 microg Zn/L compared to cultures in ISO medium. This review has revealed that currently accepted standard protocols used in regulatory frameworks contain a number of major shortcomings on the physicochemical and biological aspects of algal toxicity testing with metals. These shortcomings are summarized in Table 5, together with a number of suggestions that could help to modify and improve standard test protocols for evaluating metal toxicity to algae. Until now, important factors such as pH control during test performance, selection of test medium, test species, and the effects of possible adaptation/acclimation to natural metal concentrations have not been considered, which could have serious implications when the resulting unsuitable or irrelevant toxicity data are subsequently used for setting environmental management policies. These findings also have their consequences when extrapolating laboratory data to the field as the complexity of natural waters currently is not reflected in laboratory standard media. These media contain no dissolved organic matter, have a relatively high pH, and contain large amounts of essential nutrients. In addition, the limited number of laboratory test species do not reflect natural phytoplankton communities. Test procedures for assessing the environmental impact of metal contamination in a specified ecoregion should therefore be based on performing a battery of algal tests with species adapted to and tested under the specific natural conditions of the region.

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