, Volume 185, Issue 11, pp 9481-9494
Date: 23 Jul 2013

Derivation of no-effect and reference-level sediment quality values for application at Saskatchewan uranium operations

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Abstract

To date, the majority of empirical approaches used to derive sediment quality values (SQVs) have focused on metal concentrations in sediment associated with adverse effects on benthic invertebrate communities. Here, we propose the no-effect (NE) approach. This SQV derivation methodology uses metal concentrations in sediment associated with unaffected benthic communities (i.e., from reference sites and lightly contaminated no-effect sites) and accounts for local benthic invertebrate tolerance and potential chemical interactions at no-effect exposure sites. This NE approach was used to propose alternative regional SQVs for uranium operations in northern Saskatchewan. Three different sets of NE values were derived using different combinations of benthic invertebrate community effects criteria (abundance, richness, evenness, Bray–Curtis index). Additionally, reference values were derived based solely on sediment metal concentrations from reference sites. In general, NE values derived using abundance, richness, and evenness (NE1 and NE2 values) were found to be higher than the NE values derived using all four metrics (NE3 values). Derived NE values for Cr, Cu, Pb, and V did not change with the incorporation of additional effects criteria due to a lack of influence from the uranium operations on the concentrations of these metals in sediment. However, a gradient of exposure concentrations was apparent for As, Mo, Ni, Se, and U in sediment which allowed for tolerable exposure levels of these metals in sediment to be defined. The findings from this assessment have suggested a range of new, alternate metal SQVs for use at uranium operations in northern Saskatchewan.