Does a sum of toxic units exceeding 1 imply adverse impacts on macroinvertebrate assemblages? A field study in a northern Japanese river receiving treated mine discharge

  • Yuichi IwasakiEmail author
  • Megumi Fujisawa
  • Tagiru Ogino
  • Hiroyuki Mano
  • Naohide Shinohara
  • Shigeki Masunaga
  • Masashi Kamo


In ecological risk assessment, sum-of-toxic-unit approaches based on measured water quality factors such as trace metals are used to infer ecological impacts in the environment. However, it is uncertain whether the use of such approaches yields accurate risk predictions. To address this issue, we investigated and compared (1) water quality, including trace metals, and (2) benthic macroinvertebrate communities in a northern Japanese river receiving treated discharge from an abandoned mine and in a nearby reference river. As a sum-of-toxic-unit approach, we employed a cumulative criterion unit (CCU), namely, the sum of the ratios of the dissolved concentrations of a metal (Cu, Zn, Cd, or Pb) divided by the US Environmental Protection Agency hardness-adjusted environmental water quality criterion for that metal. Compared with the reference sites, at the metal-contaminated sites, the richness, abundance, and structure of macroinvertebrate communities were little affected, with CCUs of 1.7 to 7.4, suggesting that CCU values exceeding 1 do not always indicate marked adverse impacts on these metrics. Further study is still required to derive a more compelling conclusion on the generally applicable relationships between CCUs and ecological impacts on river invertebrates. This would lead to better ecological risk assessments based on sum-of-toxic-unit approaches.


Heavy metals Aquatic insects Invertebrates Species richness Streams Ecological impacts 



We are grateful to Susumu Norota and Kazuto Ohmori of Hokkaido Research Organization for their help in study site selection, and Shosaku Kashiwada and Daiki Kitamura of Toyo University for their help in metal analysis. The paper does not necessarily reflect the policies or views of any government agencies. Useful comments by anonymous reviewers are greatly appreciated.

Funding information

Preparation of this manuscript was supported partly by the Environment Research and Technology Development Fund (5RF-1801) of the Environmental Restoration and Conservation Agency of Japan.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Research Institute of Science for Safety and SustainabilityNational Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and TechnologyIbarakiJapan
  2. 2.College of Engineering ScienceYokohama National UniversityYokohamaJapan
  3. 3.Faculty of Environment and Information SciencesYokohama National UniversityYokohamaJapan
  4. 4.Geological Survey of HokkaidoHokkaido Research OrganizationSapporoJapan

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