, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 240-253

The identification of readily bioavailable pollutants in lake shkodra/skadar using semipermeable membrane devices (SPMDs), bioassays and chemical analysis

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Goal, Scope and Background

Lake Shkodra/Skadar is the largest lake in the Balkans region and located on the border between Albania to the south and Montenegro to the north. Because of the wide range of endemic, rare or endangered plant and animal species it supports, Lake Shkodra/Skadar and its extensive associated wetlands are internationally recognised as a site of significance and importance (Ramsar site). In recent years, social and economic changes in both Albania and Montenegro have lead to unprecedented levels of urban and industrial effluent entering the lake. Of particular concern is the increasing input of toxic hydrophobic organic pollutants (HOPs) into the lake and the degree to which these compounds are available for uptake by aquatic biota. Semipermeable membrane devices (SPMDs) have been shown to sample the readily bioavailable fraction (dissolved phase) of waterborne HOPs and in doing so provide relevant data for exposure assessment. The aim of the current study was to use SPMD-based sampling in conjunction with appropriate bioassays and chemical analysis to identify readily bioavailable HOPs in the lake.


SPMDs were constructed and deployed at three sites in the Albanian sector and three sites in the Montenegrin sector of Lake Skadar/Shkodra for 21 days. Following the dialytic recovery of target analytes and size exclusion chromatographic clean-up, aliquots of SPMD samples were subjected to GC-MS scan analysis for major components, GC-MS SIM analysis for 16 priority pollutant polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PP-PAHs) and assayed for EROD-inducing, estrogenic and mutagenic potential using rainbow trout liver cells (RTL-W1), the yeast estrogen screen (YES) and the Ames Test, respectively.

Results and Discussion

A total of 39 compounds were tentatively identified in SPMD samples from the six sampling sites. Alkylated PAHs were the most abundant and ubiquitous compounds present along with various sterols and sterol derivatives. Numerous other compounds remain unidentified. 15 of the 16 targeted PP-PAHs were present in samples from one or more of the sampling sites indicating these compounds are both readily bioavailable and widely distributed in Lake Shkodra/Skadar. Total PP-PAH concentrations ranged between 3991 ng/SPMD and 10695 ng/SPMD. Bioassays carried out on SPMD samples revealed significant EROD-inducing and estrogenic potential at five of the six sampling sites indicating toxicologically relevant compounds are readily available for uptake by resident aquatic biota. EROD-inducing potential was positively correlated with targeted PP-PAH concentration (r2 = 0.74). However, comparison of bioassay- and analytically-derived toxicity equivalents revealed targeted PP-PAHs were responsible for less than 0.06% of the total EROD-inducing potential.

Conclusions and Outlook

The combination of SPMD-based sampling with appropriate bioassays and chemical analysis provided an effective tool for the identification of environmentally relevant waterborne pollutants in Lake Shkodra/Skadar. Our results show that toxicologically relevant HOPs including EROD-inducing and potentially estrogenic compounds are widely distributed in the lake and readily available for uptake by aquatic biota. Our results also suggest that alkylated PAHs rather than parent compounds may be of greater toxicological relevance in the lake. As anthropogenic influences continue to increase, SPMD-based sampling is expected to play a central role in future research concerned with the identification, monitoring and assessment of the risk posed by HOPs to Lake Shkodra/Skadar’s aquatic biota.