Environmental Quality Benchmarks for Protecting Aquatic Ecosystems

Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 17-27

First online:

Sediment quality guidelines: challenges and opportunities for improving sediment management

  • Kevin W. H. KwokAffiliated withNicholas School of the Environment, Duke University Email author 
  • , Graeme E. BatleyAffiliated withCentre for Environmental Contaminants Research, CSIRO Land and Water
  • , Richard J. WenningAffiliated withENVIRON
  • , Lingyan ZhuAffiliated withCollege of Environmental Science and Engineering, Key Laboratory of Pollution Processes and Environmental Criteria, Ministry of Education, Nankai University
  • , Marnix VangheluweAffiliated withARCHE Consulting
  • , Shirley LeeAffiliated withHong Kong Institute of Environmental Impact Assessment

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During the International Conference on Deriving Environmental Quality Standards for the Protection of Aquatic Ecosystems held in Hong Kong in December 2011, an expert group, comprising scientists, government officials, and consultants from four continents, was formed to discuss the important scientific and regulatory challenges with developing sediment quality guidelines (SQGs). We identified the problems associated with SQG development and made a series of recommendations to ensure that the methods being applied were scientifically defensible and internationally applicable. This document summarizes the key findings from the expert group. To enable evaluation of current SQG derivation and application systems, a feedback mechanism is required to communicate confounding factors and effects in differing environments, while field validation is necessary to gauge the effectiveness of SQG values in sediment quality assessments. International collaboration is instrumental to knowledge exchange and method advancement, as well as promotion of ‘best practices’. Since the paucity of sediment toxicity data poses the largest obstacle to improving current SQGs and deriving new SQGs, a standardized international database should be established as an information resource for sediment toxicity testing and monitoring data. We also identify several areas of scientific research that are needed to improve sediment quality assessment, including determining the importance of dietary exposure in sediment toxicity, mixture toxicity studies, toxicity screening of emerging chemicals, how climate change influence sediments and its biota, and possible use of new toxicity study approaches such as high throughput omic-based toxicity screenings.


Environmental quality standards Sediment quality guidelines Aquatic ecosystem health Ecotoxicity