, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp 187-199

Biological responses of the sea urchin, Arbacia punctulata, to lead contamination for an estuarine ecological risk assessment

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An estuarine ecological risk assessment for thePortsmouth Naval Shipyard (PNS) Kittery, ME, wasconducted utilizing the U.S. EPA's Framework forEcological Risk Assessment (ERA). As part of theanalysis phase of the ERA, laboratory studies wereconducted to develop quantitative exposure-responserelationships for lead (Pb), a key contaminant ofconcern for PNS, in order to evaluate the role of Pbin the ecological stress observed near PNS, and toestimate the probability of ecological risk associatedwith Pb contamination at the site. Biological effectsof exposure to Pb via sediment or diet were evaluatedusing several life stages of the sea urchin, Arbacia punctulata. This strategy was employedbecause echinoderm species, including A.punctulata, are amenable to laboratory testing andhave been used frequently to assess the toxicity ofestuarine waters and sediments. In addition, lifestage-specific biological effects could be comparedand integrated into projections of population-levelresponses to Pb. Results indicated that adult seaurchins accumulated Pb in direct proportion toexposure medium Pb concentration, whether exposureoccurred via sediment or diet. High Pb concentrationsreduced survival and gamete production in females, buthad no effect on the viability of produced gametes. Aqueous Pb exposure concentrations that producedadverse effects on adult sea urchin survival andreproduction were also directly toxic to early lifestages. In addition to their utility for this ERA,these results have applicability for the prediction ofbiological effects or the retrospective analysis ofcausal relationships at other estuarine sites.