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Comparative toxicity of azo dyes to two infaunal organisms (Hexagenia spp. and Tubifex tubifex) in spiked-sediment exposures


Azo dyes are synthetic compounds used as industrial colorants, and some are predicted to be inherently toxic, bioaccumulative, and/or persistent based upon their chemical composition. This study addresses data gaps in current research which include the need to evaluate the toxicity of hydrophobic azo dyes to benthic invertebrates. The toxicity of a solvent dye, Sudan Red G (SRG), and two disperse dyes, Disperse Yellow 7 (DY7) and Disperse Orange 13 (DO13), to Hexagenia spp. and Tubifex tubifex was assessed in spiked-sediment exposures. The dye compounds appeared to degrade readily in the equilibrium and exposure periods, suggesting a limited persistence of the parent compounds in the environment under test conditions. Although azo dye degradation products could not be reliably quantified, one was detected in DY7 sediment samples that elicited toxic effects to Hexagenia and Tubifex, providing evidence that DY7 degrades. Hexagenia survival and growth endpoints responded with similar sensitivity to the dyes, but DY7 was the most toxic, with a 21-day IC25 (concentration associated with 25% inhibition) for growth of 9.6 μg/g. Comparatively, Tubifex reproduction was the most sensitive endpoint for all dyes with 28-day IC25s for young production ranging from 1.3 to 11.8 μg/g. At sublethal concentrations, toxic effects to Tubifex differed between dyes: the solvent dye exerted an effect primarily on gametogenesis (cocoon production), while disperse dyes, most notably DY7, caused effects on embryogenesis (development of worm inside the cocoon). This study indicates that there could be potential hazard to oligochaetes based on the observed effect concentrations, but given the lack of environmental measurements, the risk of these compounds is unknown. Further research is required to determine if degradation products were formed in all dye samples and whether toxicity was caused by the parent molecules, which have limited persistence under test conditions, or by their degradation products. To avoid underestimating toxicity, this study stresses the need to use an infaunal deposit feeder such as the oligochaete Tubifex in sediment toxicity assessments where highly hydrophobic compounds are present.

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We would like to thank John Toito and Virginia Palabrica for their technical assistance and Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Chemicals Management Plan (CMP) for funding the research.

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Correspondence to Danielle Milani.

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Responsible editor: Philippe Garrigues

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Milani, D., Bartlett, A.J., de Solla, S.R. et al. Comparative toxicity of azo dyes to two infaunal organisms (Hexagenia spp. and Tubifex tubifex) in spiked-sediment exposures. Environ Sci Pollut Res 25, 6937–6950 (2018).

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  • Mayfly
  • Oligochaete
  • Bioassays
  • Survival
  • Growth
  • Reproduction