Applicability of ambient toxicity testing to national or regional water-quality assessment

Open-File Report 89-55




Comprehensive assessment of the quality of natural waters requires a multifaceted approach. Based on experimentation designed to monitor responses of organisms to environmental stresses, toxicity testing may have diverse purposes in water quality assessments. These purposes may include identification that warrant further study because of poor water quality or unusual ecological features, verification of other types of monitoring, or assessment of contaminant effects on aquatic communities. A wide variety of toxicity test methods have been developed to fulfill the needs of diverse applications. The methods differ primarily in the full selections made relative to four characteristics: (1) test species, (2) endpoints (acute or chronic), (3) test enclosure type, and (4) test substance (toxicant) that functions as the environmental stress. Toxicity test approachs vary in their capacity to meet the needs of large-scale assessments of existing water quality. Ambient testing is more likely to meet these needs than are the procedures that call for exposure of the test organisms to known concentrations of a single toxicant. However, meaningful interpretation of ambient test results depend on the existence of accompanying chemical analysis of the ambient media. The ambient test substance may be water or sediments. Sediment tests have had limited application, but they are useful because of the fact that most toxicants tend to accumulate in sediments, and many test species either inhabit the sediments or are in frequent contact with them. Biochemical testing methods, which have been developing rapidly in recent years, are likely to be among the most useful procedures for large-scale water quality assessments. They are relatively rapid and simple, and more importantly, they focus on biochemical changes that are the initial responses of virtually all organisms to environmental stimuli. Most species are sensitive to relatively few toxicants and their sensitivities vary as conditions change. One of the most informative approaches for toxicity testing is to combine biochemical tests with other test methods in a ' battery or tests ' that is diversified enough to characterize different types of toxicants and different trophic levels. (Lantz-PTT)

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Applicability of ambient toxicity testing to national or regional water-quality assessment
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Open-File Report
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U.S. Geological Survey,
v, 102 p. :ill. ;28 cm.