Journal of Soils and Sediments

, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 504-517

First online:

Development of sediment quality guidelines for freshwater ecosystems

  • Eric de DeckereAffiliated withInstitute of Environment & Sustainable Development, University of Antwerp Email author 
  • , Ward De CoomanAffiliated withFlemish Environment Agency
  • , Vicky LeloupAffiliated withEcosystem Management Research Group, University of Antwerp
  • , Patrick MeireAffiliated withEcosystem Management Research Group, University of Antwerp
  • , Claudia SchmittAffiliated withEcosystem Management Research Group, University of Antwerp
  • , Peter C. von der OheAffiliated withUFZ, Department of Effect-Directed Analysis, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, UFZ

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access



The development of Sediment Quality Guidelines (SQGs) is one of the remaining challenges for a better protection of aquatic biodiversity and in particular sediment dwelling organisms. So far, sediment quality assessment in Flanders was based on a comparison of chemical concentrations to the geometric mean of the concentrations at 12 reference sites. The study described in this paper addressed the need for more science-based guidelines. The developed guidelines are already incorporated into Flemish legislation.

Materials and methods

Based on a large sediment monitoring database, containing physico-chemical properties, concentrations of chemicals, macrobenthic community assemblages and ecotoxicological data, Sediment Effect Concentrations (SECs) were calculated as basis for the SQGs. The derived SECs were based on ecological effects, namely Lowest and Severe Effect Levels (LEL/SEL), as well as ecotoxicological endpoints, namely Threshold and Probable Effect Levels (TEL/PEL). The average values of the ecological and ecotoxicological SECs were used to distinguish five sediment quality classes.

Results and discussion

The ecological values were in general less stringent than the ecotoxicological values. However, the Lowest Effect Levels (95% of the benthic taxa can be present under this level) and Threshold Effect Levels (no toxic effect is expected under this level) did not differ significantly. Probable Effect Levels (concentrations above this level will certainly result in toxic effects) were generally lower than the Severe Effect Levels (above this level only 5% or less of the taxa are present). The SECs calculated in this study enabled us to correctly identify 87.9% of the sediments as toxic. The development of SQGs based on a combination of the LEL/SEL and TEL/PEL methods enabled us to underpin these SQGs based on field observations and will improve the assessment of sediment quality based on chemical parameters. Although sediments typically contain complex mixtures of contaminants, only a limited number of these contaminants will be measured. Additional application of bioassays for the overall sediment quality assessment is therefore recommended.


This study describes the development of SQGs in Flanders, which are based on ecological and ecotoxicological data derived from a TRIAD monitoring network. The combination of the LEL and PEL resulted in SQGs that were recently incorporated in Flemish legislation and for which the respective pore water concentrations were in the same order of magnitude as the Annual Average Environmental Quality Standards values for Water Framework Directive priority pollutants.


EQS Macrobenthos Priority substances SEC Sediment quality guidelines SQG TRIAD