Contaminated sediments that are not acutely toxic to aquatic organisms but contain bioaccumulable toxic substances present a common, yet poorly understood problem for regulatory decision makers. In order to recommend options to minimize bioaccumulation of these toxic substances, decisionmakers need estimates of 1. which substances are available for accumulation by aquatic organisms; and 2. the potential impacts of such accumulation. The most direct and meaningful approach to estimating bioavailability is measurement of contaminant uptake by aquatic organisms exposed to the sediments of concern. Reasonably reliable methodologies exist for performing such exposures in the laboratory and in situ using marine or freshwater organisms. Such methods can demonstrate short-term potential for bioaccumulation of toxics from the sediments, but not necessarily the biological significance or long-term impact of any accumulated residues in the organisms and transfer of those residues through the food chain. Since most contaminated sediments contain a mixture of toxic substances, determination of the biological significance of their accumulation is not likely in the near future. Thus, the direct measurement of significant bioaccumulation of toxic substances from the sediments remains the most immediately useful index in a decision-making process.
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Assessing the bioaccumulation of contaminants from sediments by fish and other aquatic organisms