, Volume 26, Issue 4, pp 471–481 | Cite as

Ecotoxicity of boric acid in standard laboratory tests with plants and soil organisms

  • Juliska PrinczEmail author
  • Leonie Becker
  • Adam Scheffczyk
  • Gladys Stephenson
  • Rick Scroggins
  • Thomas Moser
  • Jörg Römbke


To verify the continuous sensitivity of ecotoxicological tests (mainly the test organisms), reference substances with known toxicity are regularly tested. Ideally, this substance(s) would lack specificity in its mode action, be bioavailable and readily attainable with cost-effective means of chemical characterization. Boric acid has satisfied these criteria, but has most recently been characterized as a substance of very high concern, due to reproductive effects in humans, thus limiting its recommendation as an ideal reference toxicant. However, there is probably no other chemical for which ecotoxicity in soil has been so intensively studied; an extensive literature review yielded lethal (including avoidance) and sublethal data for 38 taxa. The ecotoxicity data were evaluated using species sensitivity distributions, collectively across all taxa, and separately according to species type, endpoints, soil type and duration. The lack of specificity in the mode of action yielded broad toxicity among soil taxa and soil types, and provided a collective approach to assessing species sensitivity, while taking into consideration differences in test methodologies and exposure durations. Toxicity was species-specific with Folsomia candida and enchytraied species demonstrating the most sensitivity; among plants, the following trend occurred: dicotyledonous (more sensitive) ≫ monocotyledonous ≫ gymnosperm species. Sensitivity was also time and endpoint specific, with endpoints such as lethality and avoidance being less sensitive than reproduction effects. Furthermore, given the breadth of data and toxicity demonstrated by boric acid, lessons learned from its evaluation are discussed to recommend the properties required by an ideal reference substance for the soil compartment.


Boric acid Toxicity Soil Reference substance Invertebrates SSD 



We thank all colleagues at ECT GmbH and Environment and Climate Change Canada who helped us to compile the literature data presented here; in particular we would like to acknowledge the support from Stephan Jänsch (ECT GmbH). We thank Tamzin El-Fityani for the SSD Master program used herein. In addition, we would like to thank the Biological Assessment and Standardization Section of Environment and Climate Change Canada, since an important part of this data set was originally prepared there (

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Supplementary material

10646_2017_1789_MOESM1_ESM.docx (143 kb)
Supplementary Information


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Juliska Princz
    • 1
    Email author
  • Leonie Becker
    • 2
    • 3
  • Adam Scheffczyk
    • 2
  • Gladys Stephenson
    • 4
  • Rick Scroggins
    • 1
  • Thomas Moser
    • 2
  • Jörg Römbke
    • 2
  1. 1.Environment and Climate Change CanadaBiological Assessment and Standardization SectionOttawaCanada
  2. 2.ECT Oekotoxikologie GmbHFlörsheimGermany
  3. 3.Institute for Ecology, Evolution and Diversity, Goethe UniversityFrankfurt am MainGermany
  4. 4.Aquaterra Environmental Consulting Inc.OrtonCanada

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